restricted access CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Path of Knowledge: Jñānamārga
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156 CH APTER ELEV EN The Path of Knowledge Jñānamārga Those who know Brahman as satyam (real), jñānam (knowledge), anantam (infinite), set down in the secret place (of the heart) and in the highest heaven, obtain all desires, together with the allknowing Brahman. —Taittirīya Upaniṣad II, 1 The Upaniṣads, also called Vedānta, “the end of the Veda,” are the basis for the mainstream of the Indian philosophical and mystical tradition, which refers to them as to its source and ultimate authority. The hymns from the Vedic Saṃhitās today mainly serve a practical purpose as part of the ritual; very few draw their personal religion and beliefs from them. The Upaniṣads, however, are studied, quoted, and used even now in arguments, and in attempts to build up a contemporary philosophical spirituality. Chronologically the Upaniṣads constitute the last part of śruti connected via specific Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas to the Saṃhitās.1 It has become customary , however, to consider them as a class of texts by themselves and to publish them independent of the rest of śruti.2 Some authors treat them as a kind of protestant countercurrent to the prevailing Vedic sacrificial religion, others as a plain continuation of the same tradition. Both views have their merits and their evident shortcomings: the Upaniṣads quote the Vedas quite frequently and make use of Vedic ideas; they also contain anti-Vedic polemics and represent unorthodox viewpoints.3 There is, however, a difference between the Saṃhitās and the Upaniṣads, recognized since early times by the Hindu interpreters : the Vedas and Brāhmaṇas center around the sacrificial ritual whose ultimate goal is svarga or heaven; the Upaniṣads proclaim an esoteric teaching, the dispensability of ritual, and the attainment of freedom and immortality through a process of concentration and spiritual interiorizing—a difference THE PATH OF K NOW LEDGE 157 that prompted ancient writers to classify the religion of the Upaniṣads as jñānamārga, “the way of knowledge,” over against karmamārga, “the way of works,” propounded by Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas. The Upaniṣads vary considerably in length; among the ten or twelve Upaniṣads normally considered as the authentic or principal ones, the longest amounts to about one hundred printed pages, the shortest to only about three pages. THE PR INCIPAL UPA NIṢADS: THEIR AUTHORS AND THEIR TEACHINGS The following chronology has been fairly commonly accepted by scholars: Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chāndogya form the oldest group, then come Īśa and Kena; the third group is made up of Aitareya, Taittirīya, and Kauṣītakī, the fourth of Kaṭha, Muṇḍaka, and Śvetāśvatara with Praśna, Maitrī, and Māṇḍukya concluding the “principal Upaniṣads.”4 This chronology does not take into account the different strata in each of the more lengthy texts, pertaining to different eras. The rest of the 108 Upaniṣads, which are commonly considered as canonical in one way or other, belong partly to much later times and normally represent sectarian teachings of various groups that would preclude their universal acceptance. Quite frequently the Īśa(vasya) Upaniṣad is described as the most important one, the essence of all Upaniṣadic teaching; this may be due partly to its brevity , partly to its concentrated contents, but the Upaniṣads mentioned before contain much that differs in content from the Īśa and much that adds to it. The designation upaniṣad is usually explained as derived from upa (close by), ni (down), and ṣad (sit), implying a form of teaching from the teacher’s mouth to the pupil’s ear, a secret doctrine, or at least a teaching that was not common knowledge of the people. No precise information about their authors’ identities can be given. The Upaniṣads do mention a great number of names both in the texts and in the lists of guru-paraṃparā at the end of the texts, and we must assume that many of those names do refer to actual historical personalities that might be called Upaniṣadic philosophers.5 In certain parts of the Upaniṣads intended to convey a teaching through hyperbole or metaphor, the names of devas and ṛṣis are mentioned as authors of certain doctrines or practices, an ascription that does not allow any historical verification. Other parts of the Upaniṣads have over the centuries been transmitted anonymously...