Unpishads : A metaphysical curiosity for a theoretical explanation of the world

Author S Radhakrishnan
The Upnishads represent a great chapter in the history of the human spirit and have dominated Indian philosophy, religion and life for three thousand years. Every subsequent religious movement has had to show itself to be in accord with their philosophical statements. Even doubting and denying spirits found in them anticipations of their hesitancies, misgivings and negations. They have survived many changes, religious and secular, and helped many generations of men to formulate their views on the chief problems of life and existence.

Their thought by itself and through influenced even in ancient times the cultural life of other nations far beyond the boundaries of India, Greater India, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea and in the south, in Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula and far away in the islands of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. In the west, the tracks of Indian thought may be traced far into Central Asia, where, buried in the sands of the desert, were found Indian texts.

The Upnishads have shown an unparalleled variety of appeal during these long centuries and have been admired by different people, for different reasons, at different periods. They are said to provide us with a complete chart of the unseen reality, to give us the most immediate, intimate and convincing light on the secret of human existence, to formulate, in Deussen’s words, “philosophical conceptions unequalled in India or perhaps anywhere else in the world,” or to tackle every fundamental problem of philosophy. All this may be so or may not be so.

But of one thing there is no dispute, that those earnest spirits have known the fevers and ardours of religious seekings; they have expressed that pensive mood of the thinking
mind which finds no repose except in the Absolute, no rest except in the Divine. The ideal which haunted the thinkers of the Upanisads, the ideal of man’s ultimate beatitude, the perfection of knowledge, the vision of the Real in which the religious hunger of  the mystic for divine vision and the philosopher’s ceaseless quest for truth are both satisfied is still our ideal.

A.N Whitehead speaks to us of the real which stands behind and beyond  and within the passing flux of this world. Something which is real and yet waiting to be realized, something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts, something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension;  something whose possession is the final good and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and the hopeless quest. A metaphysical curiosity for a theoretical explanation of the world as much as a passionate longing for liberation is to be found in the Upanishads. Their ideas do not only enlighten our minds, but stretch our souls.

If the ideas of the Upanishads help us to rise above the glamour of the fleshy life, it is because of their authors, pure of soul, ever striving towards the divine, reveal to us their pictures of the splendors of the unseen. The Upanishads are respected not because they are a part of “Shruti” or revealed literature and so hold a reserved position but because they have inspired generations of Indians with vision and strength by their inexhaustible significance and spiritual power. Indian thought has constantly turned to these scriptures for fresh illumination and spiritual recovery or recommencement and not in vain. The fire still burns bright on their altars. Their light is for the seeing eye and their message is for the seeker after truth.

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