Since the very beginning of Indian Civilization, the cohesive force in Indian Society has been Dharma. To this day, as you travel through the Indian subcontinent across different states, different languages, different customs, you see the differences unite into a common set of philosophic concepts that we call Dharma.
1. Rta (Rutam)
Dharma originates in the Vedic concept of Rta, the eternal moral principle, an all-pervading law sustaining the Cosmic Order. The Ved define Rta as the Eternal Law:
- Firm are Rta’s foundations. Rta assumes forms infinite and beauteous for the good of living beings…The Ved enshrine Eternal Truth within themselves by the grace of Rta – Rg-Ved, IV.23.9.
As an aside, the Samskrut word Rta and the English word Right are derived from the same root according to philologists.
Satya, on the other hand, is Truth understood and realized on a human plane. As such, the definition of Satya has varied through out Indian history. The most widely used doctrine of Satya goes back to the sacred UpaNiSad. The UpaNiSadic doctrine of Satya has been studied, articulated and shared with the Indian people by Saints through out Indian history.
The most recent was the invocation of “Satyam Ev Jayate” by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom struggle. That doctrine was laid out in detail in the Mundak-UpaNiSad, one of the 10 most important UpaNiSad.
3. A brief recap of the UpaNiSad
UpaNiSad are commentaries on the Ved. The word Upa-Ni-Sad means “sit very near“. The commentaries were called UpaNiSad because they were taught and discussed in a close, cordial relationship between a Guru and students. The UpaNiSad are called “Ved-Anta” or Vedanta because:
- they form the concluding sections of the Ved and,
- they are considered to represent the essence of the Ved.
Ten out of the 108 UpaNiSad are considered principal or major:
- Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundak, Mandukya, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Aitareya and Bruhad-Aranyak.
Two main ideas dominate the teachings of all UpaNiSad:
- Supreme value of Dnyan or Knowledge of the Ultimate Satya and
- need of Vairagya (वैराग्य) or complete detachment.
Vairagya or detachment was not seen as an end in itself but as a means to the pursuit of the Ultimate Truth.
The UpaNiSad discuss two worlds or two levels of knowledge Para and A-Para (Mundak-I.1.5):
- A-Para or lower – to this belong the Samhita (or prayers) of the Rg-Ved, Yajur-Ved, Sama-Ved, Atharva-Ved and the 6 “Ved-Anga” or Vedang.
- Para – in which the A-Kshar (अ-क्षर) or the Immutable Satya is known.
4. UpaNiSadic Doctrine of Satya
For brevity, we shall discuss only 3 important verses that define the UpaNiSadic Satya. This will also give us the chance to introduce two UpaNiSad to readers.
The phrase “Tat Tvam Asi” (तत् त्वं असि ) is an immortal phrase from the Chandogya-UpaNiSad. This long UpaNiSad belongs to the Sama-Ved. Indian music began with the Sama-Ved. So this UpaNiSad begins with the identification of Udgita or Saman music. Chandogya-UpaNiSad contains stories that shed light on Dharma, stories that have become immortal.
We published one of these immortal stories on June 5, 2020 as Story from the Past -2, the story of Satyakaam Jaabaal and Rushi Gautam. Briefly, Jabaalaa was a maid who worked in the homes of the elite. From one of them, she conceived a son whom she named Satya-Kaam, the lover of Truth. When asked for his father’s name, young Satyakaam honestly told Gautam the tale of his mother. Rushi Gautam is pleased and accepted Satya-Kaam as a True Brahman. The edict pronounced by Rushi Gautam has become immortal:
- enter site जन्मता जायते शूद्रः संस्कारात द्विज उच्यते – Everyone born at the lowest strata or Shudra , It is with Education that one becomes Twice-Born. (see Story from the Past -2 ). enter
Rushi Gautam was the creator of Nyaya-Sutra, the work that established the doctrines of Nyaya or Law. Satya-Kaam went on to compose his own UpaNiSad called the Jaabaal-UpaNiSad.
The definition of Satya is described in a second story, the dialog between Sveta-Ketu and his father. This is a long dialog which discusses the identity of the individual with the Supreme Entity or Brahman , the doctrine that the essence of all is the Param-Atman, the Ultimate Truth of which all of us are a part. This is summarized by Sveta-Ketu’s father in the immortal sentence below:
- That is the Truth (तत् सत्यं). That is the Self. (स आत्मा). That thou Art (तत् त्वं असि), O Svetaketu (श्वेत-केतो).
The Mundak-UpaNiSad belongs to the Atharva-Ved. It is divided into three parts, each with two sections. The Mundak-UpaNiSad discusses the difference between Para and A-Para, the two levels of knowledge defined in section 3 above. The earlier sections lay out the doctrine of the Supreme Entity or Brahman as the Ultimate Truth. Then the Mundak-UpaNiSad proclaims:
- Satya alone Prevails (सत्यं एव जयते), not un-Rutam (न अनृतं or अन-रुतं). By Satya is laid out the path of the Gods (सत्येन पन्था विततो देवयानः), by which the Sages, who have their desires fully realized (sated), proceed to where there is that Supreme Seat of Truth (यत्र तत् सत्यस्य परमं निधानम्).
Mundak teaches that One who understands this, really understand this, crosses the cycle of rebirths. Readers might recall that this is one of the central teachings of the Bhagwat-Geeta. Of course, the Bhagwat-Geeta goes farther and teaches that the same can be obtained both by Karma-Yog and by Bhakti.
As an aside, note how subtly the Seer of the Mundak-UpaNiSad has harmonized Satya with R
ta (Rutam), the message being that at the Ultimate plane, Satya is Rta itself.
The Isa-UpaNiSad, one of the most important UpaNiSad, has only 18 verses. But each verse is profound as we have seen in discussions of Verse 1 (Gandhiji’s favorite Verse) and Verse 2, the definition of Karma-Yog. This Blog has published 5 articles on the Isa-UpaNiSad over the past couple of years.
The Ultimate UpaNiSadic Satya was expressed beautifully in the 7th Verse of the Isa-UpaNiSad:
- Where (यस्मिन), to one who knows (विजानतः) , All Beings are identical to one’s own self (सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैव अभूत), there (तत्) what delusion (को मोहः), what sorrow (कः शोक) (can come) to one who has seen this identity (एकत्वं अनु-पश्यतः)?
5. Vairagya (वैराग्य) or Detachment – A necessary step to achieve Satya
Again, for brevity, we shall restrict our coverage to two important and famous UpaNiSadic discussions:
Story 13 in our collection of Stories from the past described the dialog between young Nachiketas and Yam. This story and the dialog comes from the Katha-UpaNiSad. Recall that Nachiketas had gone to Yam to learn the secret knowledge of the Truth. Yam offered the young Nachiketas wealth, kingdoms, sons & grandsons, all material possessions and pleasures to dissuade him from asking about the Knowledge of Yam. Nachiketas refused the temptations and explained:
- Both the Good or Shreyas (श्रेयस) and the Pleasing or Preyas (प्रेयस) come to men. The stable-minded choose Shreyas over Preyas (श्रेयो हि धीराः वृणीते) . The dim-witted choose Preyas for maintenance, prosperity (प्रेयो मन्दो योग-क्षेमात वृणीते). – Katha-II.1.2
Yadnya-Valkya was one of the greatest Seers in Eternal Dharma. His work, Yadnya-Valkya Samhita, forms the foundation of Dharmic Law. His philosophical work was expanded by Adi Sankar-Acharya in his own great movement. See the article Story from the Past -11 for a discussion of Yadnya-Valkya and Sankar-Acharya.
The Bruhad-Aranyak UpaNiSad belongs to the Yajur-Ved. It contains discussions between Yadnya-Valkya & King Janak and between Yadnya-Valkya and his wife, the great scholar Maitreyi. It contains, according to analysts, the highest teachings of Brahma found anywhere.
Yadnya-Valkya announced his intention to leave the Gruhastha-ashram (the householder stage of life) and wanted to make a settlement for his wife Maitreyi. The dialog below explains the importance of detachment as a step towards getting to Satya:
- Maitreyi – If this entire earth filled with wealth were mine, would I become immortal by that (यद इयं सर्वा पृथिवी वित्तेन पूर्णा स्यात् कथं तेन अमृत स्याम )?
- Yadnya-Valkya – No. Just as is the life of people of means, such will be your life. There is no hope of immortality through wealth (अमृतत्वस्य तु न आशा अस्ति वित्तेन) .
- Maitreyi – From what I cannot become immortal, what shall do with that (येन न अहं अमृता स्यां किं अहं तेन कुर्यां )? What you know Sir, That please teach me (यद एव भगवान् वेद तत् एव मे ब्रुहि).
Just like Nachiketas, Maitreyi chooses the path of detachment, the path of jettisoning material wealth in search for the Ultimate Knowledge.
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