Sacred Books of the East - Volume 1/Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ-upanishad
|←Kaushîtaki-brâhmana-upanishad||Sacred Books of the East Volume 1
, translated by Friedrich Max Müller
|Also known as Îsâvâsya-upanishad or Îsâ-upanishad.|
1. All this, whatsoever moves on earth, is to be hidden in the Lord (the Self). When thou hast surrendered all this, then thou mayest enjoy. Do not covet the wealth of any man!
This Upanishad, though apparently simple and intelligible, is in reality one of the most difficult to understand properly. Coming at the end of the Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ, in which the sacrifices and the hymns to be used by the officiating priests have been described, it begins by declaring that all has to be surrendered to the Lord. The name îs, lord, is peculiar, as having a far more personal colouring than Âtman, Self, or Brahman, the usual names given by the Upanishads to what is the object of the highest knowledge.
Next follows a permission to continue the performance of sacrifices, provided that all desires have been surrendered. And here occurs our first difficulty, which has perplexed ancient as well as modern commentators.
I shall try, first of all, to justify my own translation. I hold that the Upanishad wishes to teach the uselessness by themselves of all good works, whether we call them sacrificial, legal, or moral, and yet, at the same time, to recognise, if not the necessity, at least the harmlessness of good works, provided they are performed without any selfish motives, without any desire of reward, but simply as a preparation for higher knowledge, as a means, in fact, of subduing all passions, and producing that serenity of mind without which man is incapable of receiving the highest knowledge. From that point of view the Upanishad may well say, Let a man wish to live here his appointed time, let him even perform all works. If only he knows that all must be surrendered to the Lord, then the work done by him will not cling to him. It will not work on and produce effect after effect, nor will it involve him in a succession of new births in which to enjoy the reward of his works, but it will leave him free to enjoy the blessings of the highest knowledge. It will have served as a preparation for that higher knowledge which the Upanishad imparts, and which secures freedom from further births.
The expression "na karma lipyate nare" seems to me to admit of this one explanation only, viz. that work done does not cling to man, provided he has acquired the highest knowledge. Similar expressions occur again and again. Lip was, no doubt, used originally of evil deeds which became, as it were, engrained in man; but afterwards of all work, even of good work, if done with a desire of reward. The doctrine of the Upanishads is throughout that orthodoxy and sacrifice can procure a limited beatitude only, and that they are a hindrance to real salvation, which can be obtained by knowledge alone. In our passage therefore we can recognise one meaning only, viz. that work does not cling to man or stain him, if only he knows, i.e. if he has been enlightened by the Upanishad.
Sankara, in his commentary on the Vedânta-sûtras III, 4, 7; 13; 14, takes the same view of this passage. The opponent of Bâdarâyana, in this case, Gaimini himself, maintains that karma, work, is indispensable to knowledge, and among other arguments, he says, III, 4, 7, that it is so "Niyamât" "Because it is so laid down by the law." The passage here referred to is, according to SSankara, our very verse, which, he thinks, should be translated as follows: "Let a man wish to live a hundred years here (in this body) performing works; thus will an evil deed not cling to thee, while thou art a man; there is no other way but this by which to escape the influence of works." In answer to this, Bâdarâyana says, first of all, III, 4, 13, that this rule may refer to all men in general, and not to one who knows; or, III, 4, 14, if it refers to a man who knows, that then the permission to perform works is only intended to exalt the value of knowledge, the meaning being that even to a man who performs sacrifices all his life, work does not cling, if only he knows; —such being the power of knowledge.
The same Sankara, however, who here sees quite clearly that this verse refers to a man who knows, explains it in the Upanishad as referring to a man who does not know (itarasyânâtmagñatayâtmagrahanâsaktasya). It would then mean: "Let such a one, while performing works here on earth, wish to live a hundred years. In this manner there is no other way for him but this (the performance of sacrifices), so that an evil deed should not be engrained, or so that he should hot be stained by such a deed." The first and second verses of the Upanishad would thus represent the two paths of life, that of knowledge and that of works, and the following verses would explain the rewards assigned to each.
Mahîdhara, in his commentary on the Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ, steers at first a middle course. He would translate: "Let one who performs the Agnihotra and other sacrifices, without any desire of reward, wish to live here a hundred years. If thou do so, there will be salvation for thee, not otherwise. There are many roads that lead to heaven, but one only leading to salvation, namely, performance of good works, without any desire of reward, which produces a pure heart. Work thus done, merely as a preparation for salvation, does not cling to man, i.e. it produces a pure heart, but does not entail any further consequences." So far he agrees with Uvata's explanation. He allows, however, another explanation also, so that the second line would convey the meaning: "If a man lives thus (performing good works), then there is no other way by which an evil deed should not be engrained; i.e. in order to escape the power of sin, he must all his life perform sacred acts."
Next follows a description of the lot of those who, immersed in works, have not arrived at the highest knowledge, and have not recovered their true self in the Highest Self, or Brahman. That Brahman, though the name is not used here, is then described, and salvation is promised to the man who beholds all things in the Self and the Self in all things.
The verses 9-14 are again full of difficulty, not so much in themselves as in their relation to the general system of thought which prevails in the Upanishads, and forms the foundation of the Vedânta philosophy. The commentators vary considerably in their interpretations. Sankara explains avidyâ, not-knowledge, by good works, particularly sacrifice, performed with a hope of reward; vidyâ, or knowledge, by a knowledge of the gods, but not, as yet, of the highest Brahman. The former is generally supposed to lead the sacrificer to the pitriloka, the world of the fathers, from whence he returns to a series of new births; the latter to the devaloka, the world of the gods, from whence he may either proceed to Brahman, or enter upon a new round of existences. The question then arises, how in our passage the former could be said to lead to blind darkness, the latter to still greater darkness. But for that statement, I have no doubt that all the commentators would, as usual, have taken vidyâ for the knowledge of the Highest Brahman, and avidyâ for orthodox belief in the gods and good works, the former securing immortality in the sense of freedom from new births, while the reward of the latter is blessedness in heaven for a limited period, but without freedom from new births.
This antithesis between vidyâ and avidyâ seems to me so firmly established that I cannot bring myself to surrender it here. Though this Upanishad has its own very peculiar character, yet its object is, after all, to impart a knowledge of the Highest Self, and not to inculcate merely a difference between faith in the ordinary gods and good works. It was distinctly said before (ver. 3), that those who have destroyed their self, i.e. who perform works only, and have not arrived at a knowledge of the true Self, go to the worlds of the Asuras, which are covered with blind darkness. If then the same blind darkness is said in verse 9 to be the lot of those who worship not-knowledge, this can only mean those who have not discovered the true Self, but are satisfied with the performance of good works. And if those who perform good works are opposed to others who delight in true knowledge, that knowledge can be the knowledge of the true Self only.
The difficulty therefore which has perplexed Sankara is this, how, while the orthodox believer is said to enter into blind darkness, the true disciple, who has acquired a knowledge of the true Self, could be said to enter into still greater darkness. While Sankara in this case seems hardly to have caught the drift of the Upanishad, Uvata and Mahîdhara propose an explanation which is far more satisfactory. They perceive that the chief stress must be laid on the words ubhayam saha, "both together" in verses 11 and 14. The doctrine of certain Vedânta philosophers was that works, though they cannot by themselves lead to salvation, are useful as a preparation for the highest knowledge, and that those who imagine that they can attain the highest knowledge without such previous preparation, are utterly mistaken. From this point of view therefore the author of the Upanishad might well say that those who give themselves to what is not knowledge, i.e. to sacrificial and other good works, enter into darkness, but that those who delight altogether in knowledge, despising the previous discipline of works, deceive themselves and enter into still greater darkness.
Then follows the next verse, simply stating that, according to the teaching of wise people, the reward of knowledge is one thing, the reward of ignorance, i.e. trust in sacrifice, another. Here Mahîdhara is right again by assigning the pitriloka, the world of the fathers, as the reward of the ignorant; the devaloka, the world of the gods, as the reward of the enlightened, provided that from the world of the gods they pass on to the knowledge of the Highest Self or Brahman.
The third verse contains the strongest confirmation of Mahîdhara's view. Here it is laid down distinctly that he only who knows both together, both what is called ignorance and what is called knowledge, can be saved, because by good works he overcomes death, here explained by natural works, and by knowledge he obtains the Immortal, here explained by oneness with the gods, the last step that leads on to oneness with Brahman.
Uvata, who takes the same view of these verses, explains at once, and even more boldly than Mahîdhara, vidyâ, or knowledge, by brahmavigñâna, knowledge of Brahman, which by itself, and if not preceded by works, leads to even greater darkness than what is called ignorance, i.e. sacrifice and orthodoxy without knowledge.
The three corresponding verses, treating of sambhûti and asambhûti instead of vidyâ and avidyâ, stand first in the Vâgasaneyisamthitâ. They must necessarily be explained in accordance with our explanation of the former verses, i.e. sambhûti must correspond to vidyâ, it must be meant for the true cause, i.e. for Brahman, while asambhûti must correspond with avidyâ, as a name of what is not real, but phenomenal only and perishable.
Mahidhara thinks that these verses refer to the Bauddhas, which can hardly be admitted, unless we take Buddhist in a very general sense. Uvata puts the Lokâyatas in their place. It is curious also to observe that Mahîdhara, following Uvata, explains asambhûti at first by the denial of the resurrection of the body, while he takes sambhûti rightly for Brahman. I have chiefly followed Uvata's commentary, except in his first explanation of asambhûti, resurrection. In what follows Uvata explains sambhûti rightly by the only cause of the origin of the whole world, i.e. Brahman, while he takes vinâsa, destruction, as a name of the perishable body.
Sankara sees much more in these three verses than Uvata. He takes asambhûti as a name of Prakriti, the undeveloped cause, sambhûti as a name of the phenomenal Brahman or Hiranyagarbha. From a worship of the latter a man obtains supernatural powers, from devotion to the former, absorption in Prakriti.
Mahîdhara also takes a similar view, and he allows, like Sankara, another reading, viz. sambhûtim avinâsam ka, and avinâsena mrityum tîrtvâ. In this case the sense would be: "He who knows the worship both of the developed and the undeveloped, overcomes death, i.e. such evil as sin, passion, &c, through worship of the undeveloped, while he obtains through worship of the developed, i.e. of Hiranyagarbha, immortality, absorption in Prakrriti."
All these forced explanations to which the commentators have recourse, arise from the shifting views held by various authorities with regard to the value of works. Our Upanishad seems to me to propound the doctrine that works, though in themselves useless, or even mischievous, if performed with a view to any present or future rewards, are necessary as a preparatory discipline. This is or was for a long time the orthodox view. Each man was required to pass through the âsramas, or stages of student and householder, before he was admitted to the freedom of a Sannyâsin. As on a ladder, no step was to be skipped. Those who attempted to do so, were considered to have broken the old law, and in some respects they may indeed be looked upon as the true precursors of the Buddhists.
Nevertheless the opposite doctrine, that a man whose mind had become enlightened, might at once drop the fetters of the law, without performing all the tedious duties of student and householder, had strong supporters too among orthodox philosophers. Cases of such rapid conversion occur in the ancient traditions, and Bâdarâyana himself was obliged to admit the possibility of freedom and salvation without works, though maintaining the superiority of the usual course, which led on gradually from works to enlightenment and salvation. It was from an unwillingness to assent to the decided teaching of the Îsâ-upanishad that Sankara attempted to explain vidyâ, knowledge, in a limited sense, as knowledge of the gods, and not yet knowledge of Brahman. He would not admit that knowledge without works could lead to darkness, and even to greater darkness than works without knowledge. Our Upanishad seems to have dreaded libertinism, knowledge without works, more even than ritualism, works without knowledge, and its true object was to show that orthodoxy and sacrifice, though useless in themselves, must always form the preparation for higher enlightenment.
How misleading Sankara's explanation may prove, we can see from the translation of this Upanishad by Rammohun Roy. He followed Sankara implicitly, and this is the sense which he drew from the text:—
"9. Those observers of religious rites that perform only the worship of the sacred fire, and oblations to sages, to ancestors, to men, and to other creatures, without regarding the worship of celestial gods, shall enter into the dark region: and those practisers of religious ceremonies who habitually worship the celestial gods only, disregarding the worship of the sacred fire, and oblations to sages, to ancestors, to men, and to other creatures, shall enter into a region still darker than the former.
10. It is said that adoration of the celestial gods produces one consequence; and that the performance of the worship of sacred fire, and oblations to sages, to ancestors, to men, and to other creatures, produce another: thus have we heard from learned men, who have distinctly explained the subject to us.
11. Of those observers of ceremonies whosoever, knowing that adoration of celestial gods, as well as the worship of the sacred fire, and oblation to sages, to ancestors, to men, and to other creatures, should be observed alike by the same individual, performs them both, will, by means of the latter, surmount the obstacles presented by natural temptations, and will attain the state of the celestial gods through the practice of the former.
12. Those observers of religious rites who worship Prakriti alone (Prakriti or nature, who, though insensible, influenced by the Supreme Spirit, operates throughout the universe) shall enter into the dark region: and those practisers of religious ceremonies that are devoted to worship solely the prior operating sensitive particle, allegorically called Brahmá, shall enter into a region much more dark than the former.
13. It is said that one consequence may be attained by the worship of Brahmá, and another by the adoration of Prakriti. Thus have we heard from learned men, who have distincdy explained the subject to us.
14. Of those observers of ceremonies, whatever person, knowing that the adoration of Prakriti and that of Brahmd should be together observed by the same individual, performs them both, will by means of the latter overcome indigence, and will attain the state of Prakriti, through the practice of the former."