The Upanishads – My Reflection

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, World Religions
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1. What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The “Self” is the ground of all reality.  To experience the Self is to experience true reality, which is not differentiated out.  Rather, the forms and functions we see of the material things is merely an illusion because it is all one thing.  The Upanishads talk about the rivers flowing into the vast ocean and becoming indistinguishable from one another.  This is the way that they conceive the Self existing.  To get caught up in the material world and the senses and to think those are what is truly real is to make the biggest mistake.  Rather, enlightenment happens as we recognize the Self in everything and everything in the Self.

Death is the natural outcome or consequence for not recognizing the undifferentiated Self.  That life is reincarnated and doomed to continue the cycle until they reach enlightenment.  This enlightenment is not knowledge of language or concepts.  Instead, enlightenment can only be experienced by one’s self.  For this to happen, one must be taught by someone who has experienced that divine Self.

2. What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

In the opening section, Easwaran describes the spiritual journey as one that takes us to the edges of consciousness.  As we are lost in this intense focus of the Self, we discover that all of reality is really undifferentiated.  The Self, not merely the individual psyche, is the ground of all true existence and the ultimate satisfaction of our Infinite desire for something more than what this life holds.

This conception is very similar to the Buddhist conception of ultimate reality.  This ultimate reality is enshrouded by layers of falsehood that must be shed in order to “see” the true nature of things.  The differentiation of “things” is only in appearance for they all have their source in the Self of illumination.  This is challenging to me because I see a disconnect from this avowed “undifferentiated” reality and the reality of the social classes found within Indian society.

I understand that these classes are seen as the proper duty of Hindu peoples.  However, if tangible reality is merely a “shadow” of what is truly ultimate reality, then should not this life be made to reflect what is really Real?  If we all find our being in the ground of Self, then is there any real difference between Brahmans and the lowly serfs?  Is not relegating people to such debased existences a violation of the Self?  In other words, the hierarchal society structure is only a further differentiation of what is NOT truly differentiated, thus adding another layer of falsehood upon the one we already wear.

3. How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

            Within the Upanishad’s teachings are very similar teachings to Christianity.  There is a focus on serving others, on love, and on doing good.  There is even a “God” that is both imminent and transcendent in the world.  In this way, many people think that Christianity and Hinduism are compatible religions that teach essentially the same things.

However, upon further reflection, that is not altogether true.  The Self – or “God” – might best be described as space.  It’s not a space that is nothing, but it’s not really something either.  It is unthinking, unfeeling, unseeing, unknowing, and unhearing.  Although there seems to be a life about the Self, it is not a living being altogether.  This strongly contradicts the Christian understanding of God, who is both transcendent and imminent.  The Christian tradition sees God as living and the Giver of Life (Hindus believe the Self gives life).  But, unlike the Hindu Self, God is seeing, knowing, hearing, willing, and acting in tangible ways.  Whereas, the Self needs to only be recognized as already inherent within each person, Christianity affirms that we are all depraved and sinners.  We do not have the tools within us to be different without some type of outside intervention, which we believe is given through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Even the focus on loving and doing good within the Hindu religion is different than the Christian perspective.  Hindus believe that doing good and being loving are part of their sacred duty and that is mandatory to do these things so as not to incur bad karma.  Christians have a different understanding of these things.  We are not supposed to do those things so that we might get a just reward out of it.  Rather, those things are a response to what God has already done for us.  We love because God loved us first.  Love and good deeds in the Christian faith are more than simply doing a duty.  And, we are incapable of truly loving and doing good without God’s love and life being in us.  Hinduism is a much more humanistic religion.

4. How does reading this text contribute to (change/ confirm/ challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

I definitely understand it much better than I did before.  In learning about another religion it helped me to see why I believe what I believe more.  It challenged my thinking and made me ask deeper questions of my faith.  Within the Hindu religion are some good thoughts and teachings.  They are not all inherently bad.  But, at least from a Western perspective, this religion contradicts itself in some very important ways.  Thus, reading this text has confirmed to me that this religion is very much based on a humanistic seed that ultimately fails to adequately wrestle with and answer the questions of sin and evil and salvation.

The subject of religion in general is important for us.  It is important to understand other religions as we can so that we can have some type of dialogue.  It allows us to make connecting points with the Gospel message with something that is familiar to others.  Paul used this method in his own evangelism and can be a significant way for us to converse with people of other religions.  Studying other religions helps us to understand our own faith better because it makes us aware of the implicit beliefs that we have accepted.  And, in becoming aware of those things we are challenged to verify and test them out to see if they are true, need to be revised, or need to be thrown away.

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