In India, sometime during the first millennium B.C., the Vedas, a large body of Hindu religious texts, were finally collected and put into an organized written form. An additional, much later, collection of philosophical writings by the rishis, or seers, were appended to those earlier hymns and religious precepts, and thereafter regarded as an integral part of the Vedas. These philosophical appendages were called the Upanishads.
Of the 108 Upanishads said to exist, twelve are generally regarded to be of primary importance. In philosophical purity and persuasiveness, these few represent what, for most, are the Upanishads. Their names are the Isha, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Aitareya, Taitiriya, Svetasvatara, and Maitri Upanishads. The authors and exact dates of authorship of these separate spiritual treatises are unknown; we know only that they were written, by various anonymous sages who had realized that Truth of which they speak, sometime between 1200 and 400 B.C.
While the Upanishads vary in length and in style, their one common theme is the inner realization of the identity of the Atman (Self) and Brahman (the one universal Consciousness). We may strive to know God, or we may strive to know our Self; but, say the Upanishads, when you find the one, you shall also find the other; and it is this discovery which constitutes enlightenment consciousness.
Perhaps the most celebrated and often cited Upanishad is the Svetasvatara Upanishad, written sometime between 500 and 200 B.C. and attributed to the sage Svetasvatara, whose name is included in the closing text of the work. No other information about Svetasvatara is known to exist.
Below are excerpts from part six of the Svetasvatara Upanishad, describing Svetasvatara’s mystical consciousness:
“The non-dual resplendent Lord resides
As the Self in all creatures and all things.
He impels all to action and witnesses all.
While pervading everything, He remains ever free…
He is the Eternal within the temporal, the Infinite within form.
He’s the One within many, who grants all desires….
Only those who see Him within themselves
Obtain the gift of eternal Peace….”
Quoted from History of Mysticism by Swami Abhayananda
Image Credit: artist’s depiction of Svetasvatara from www.esamskriti.com.
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