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Introduction OPENING STATEMENT The seventh section of the Chåndogya Upaniƒad begins with a dialogue between Nårada and Sanatkumåra. Nårada approaches his teacher and asks for instruction in the typical manner for Upanishadic students . Sanatkumåra, however, demands to know his educational background before taking on Nårada as his pupil. Nårada responds: Sir, I know the §gveda, the Yajurveda, the Såmaveda, the ‹tharva£a as the fourth, the history and legend (itihåsa purå£a) as the fifth Veda, the grammar, ancestral rites, mathematics, fortune telling, treasure-finding, the dialogues, the narrow path, the knowledge of the gods, the knowledge of brahmins, the knowledge of the spirits, the knowledge of kƒatriyas, astrology , and the knowledge about serpent beings. So I am, sir, a knower of the mantras, but not a knower of the self (åtman). (7.1.2–3)1 Nårada’s response is illustrative of the interests of a number of individuals throughout the Upani∑ads. He is unhappy with the traditional education that he has already received and recognizes that to be truly knowledgeable he must learn about the self (åtman). As we will see in this book, the Upani∑ads present several different, and sometimes conflicting, teachings about the nature of the self, but throughout the texts the self remains a central concern. The Upanishadic orientation towards the self marks a significant transformation in relation to previous Vedic literature, which primarily focuses on the description and meaning of ritual actions. Indeed, this shift has been recognized by the Indian tradition, as exemplified in the traditional Vedånta division of the Vedas into karmak壿a and jñånak壿a. 1 2 The Character of the Self in Ancient India According to this classification, the Saμhitås and Bråhmaˆas are considered karmak壿a as they are the sections of the Veda that deal with ritual, while the Upani∑ads, as well as the ≈raˆyakas, are called jñånak壿a as they deal with more philosophical subjects. Modern readers have also noticed the change in orientation from the ritual texts to the Upani∑ads. Romila Thapar, for example, describes the emergence of the Upanishadic material as a paradigm shift in the constitution of knowledge in ancient India, observing that “the nature of the change was a shift from the acceptance of the Vedas as revealed and as controlled by ritual to the possibility that knowledge could derive from intuition, observation and analysis” (1993, 307). Modern translators of the Upani∑ads, including Max Müller ([1879–84] 2000), Paul Deussen ([1897] 2004), Robert Ernest Hume ([1921] 1975), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan ([1953] 1992), Patrick Olivelle (1996), and Valerie Roebuck (2003), have all recognized this philosophical orientation of the Upani∑ads, especially in discussions relating to the self.2 Similarly, this book addresses knowledge about the self in the Upani∑ads. However, what makes this study different is that it will approach the texts paying close attention to the literary presentation of the ideas. Included in the diverse material contained in the Upani∑ads are a number of stories and dialogues.3 These sections use narrative to introduce teachings about the self (åtman), and related ideas such as the bodily winds (prå£ås), and the knowledge of the five fires (pañcågnividyå). I will demonstrate that these narrative sections are not merely literary ornaments, but are integral to an understanding of the philosophical claims of the texts. In fact, the paradigm shift noted by other scholars does not pertain merely to a change in the content of the Vedic texts, but also, as I will argue, is marked by innovations in the style and structure of the texts. As such, much of what makes the Upani∑ads unique in relation to previous material is the literary presentation of the texts themselves. As in the dialogues of Plato, in the Upani∑ads philosophical claims are often introduced in the form of a conversation, thereby presenting philosophical ideas within the context of specific individuals and social situations. The dialogues tell us who is speaking, to whom, where, under what conditions, and what is at stake in the discussions. When we pay attention to these details, we see that the narratives not only contextualize the teachings, but also characterize the knowledge, and outline how and by whom these teachings should be practiced in the social world. While the teachings emphasize the åtman, the dialogues reinforce this focus on the individual by presenting us...


Subject Headings

  • Upanishads -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Self in literature.
  • Hindu literature, Sanskrit -- History and criticism.
  • Character in literature.
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