TTY 2016: Upanishads

The Upanishads: Yoga and the Self within

The Self, the self-existent One, pierced the openings of the senses outward; therefore, a man looks out and not in. But a certain wise man, in search of immortality, turned his gaze inward and saw the Self.

— Katha Upanishad 2.1.1

This week we will be learning about the time of the Upanishads, a period of intense spiritual exploration characterized by the rejection of Vedic ritualism with its constraints of caste and social duty. During this time seekers retreated from society into a life of asceticism in the forest, seeking teachers and practices that could unfold an experience of brahman, the foundational matrix of being believed to underlie all phenomenal existence. A key Upanishadic teaching is that brahman is to be found within each individual in the essence of inner self, or atman. We could approximate this teaching in contemporary English by the equation Self = self.

Required assignments:

Read The Teachings of the Upanishads by William Mahoney: A contemporary American scholar/practitioner describes the scriptures and worldview of the Upanishads.

Read How Do We Experience the Inner Self? by Sally Kempton: A former Hindu swami and regular contributor to Yoga Journal describes the Self in contemporary language.

Go into the forest: Go for a long walk by yourself in the redwoods or by the ocean. Observe the effect on your mind and body of being quiet and open to the natural world. Think about what it might mean to retreat from the demands of daily life and spend some time seeking an experience of deeper wisdom or truth.

Meditate: Choose one of the exercises that Sally Kempton describes. Set aside 30 minutes at a time when you won’t be disturbed. Close the door, turn off your cellphone, and enter fully into the exercise. Inner yoga is like outer yoga: skill comes through practice! Try to do this exercise at least three times this week.

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