As part of my pursuit of personal growth I am spending some time reading spiritual texts. First, I read the Book of Mark and shared my thoughts on it (see earlier blog posts). Now, I am reading through some of the texts that influenced Hinduisms, the Upanishads. Like my exploration of Mark, I am going to share my notes, questions, and random musings in kind of a free-wheeling format. But, unlike Mark, I am completely unfamiliar with the Upanishads and will be viewing this through a lens that is very different than the texts. Namely, my Christian American upbringing will impact my perspective and references. I intentionally did not read the introduction to this translation or anything, I am entering it pretty much blind.
Anyway, on to the Upanishads. First up, Isha Upanishad.
*Okay, these are written in a poetic format. That will make things a little more difficult for me. I tend to work better with story format.*
1: Reminds me a lot of Christianity, to be honest. “The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all” is a lot like the “god shaped hole” that I was told everyone has. To me, this points to a united search for answers and spiritual meaning, similar to the Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy.
1-2: “Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord… Thus alone will you work in real freedom.” Definitely some Stoic vibes… did the Stoics encounter Eastern philosophy? Happiness, satisfaction, joy come from coveting less, not acquiring more.
After verse(?) 2 the discussion moves from the Lord to the Self. I’m not sure exactly what the interaction between the two is. They seem separate, but both can be denied with tragic consequences. To deny the Self is to be enveloped in darkness and devoid of love for the Lord.
The Self has a shitton of attributes… it is swifter than thought and senses, motionless but outruns pursuit, and is necessary for Life. It seems to move but is still, seems far away but is near, within all, transcends all… umm, okay.
6-7: Here there is a lot of talk about seeing yourself in other living creatures and all living creatures in themselves. Here is a pretty stark difference between Christianity and this reading. This seems to say humans really aren’t as special as we think and that seeing ourselves in nature (instead of above it) prevents fear and grief.
8: Back to the Self… indivisible, untouched by sin, wise, immanent, transcendent, and holds the cosmos together. This sounds a lot like the Lord. So maybe the Self and Lord are one?
9-11: I don’t really get this part. For people where the world is without alone there is darkness but it leads to action. For people where the world is with alone there is greater darkness but it leads to meditation. With action and meditation we get immortality. Is this sort of a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” thing? Is darkness inevitable, necessary, good?
Does this mean “time alone” or “loneliness”? I can kind of see that. When I am alone I am not alone I am encouraged to act and when I am alone I am encouraged to meditate. Maybe I should read the introduction to this…
12-14: Here the Lord is given two attributes, the same two attributes attributed to Self.
- Transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
- Immanent: existing or operating within, inherent
So the Lord and the Self are spiritual and inside us all. I’m guessing that isn’t self-evident for many people and even those that know it may not believe it. It seems necessary to recognize both of these attributes. We cross the sea of death with immanence and enter into immortality with transcendence.
Shit. I need to reflect on that more.
15: “The face of truth is hidden by your orb of gold, o sun. May you remove your orb so that I, who adore the true, may see the glory of truth.”
Alright, now we are talking to the sun and its orb of gold. This isn’t really clear to me. I get how individuals may have an “orb of gold” that blocks the truth but how does the sun have one? Isn’t the sun an orb of gold?
16: The sun is the solitary source of life. But so is the Self. Are the sun and the Self the same? That actually makes more sense. Self is the sun but we are distracted by the orb of gold that blocks the truth. Alright, some of these things are coming together for me.
18: “You know all our deeds. Deliver us from evil, we who bow and pray again and again.” Sounds a lot like the Lord’s Prayer.
Alright, that is a lot of question marks. Clearly, this is kind of confusing for me and open to a lot of interpretation. My basic summary of this Upanishad is “To reach immortality we need to recognize that the Self and Lord (which may or may not be the same thing) are both transcendent and immanent. Also, picking one or the other to believe alone leads to darkness.”
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”