Upanishads and Brahman

Retreat into the forest: the Upanishads and Brahman

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

Now what people call “the sacrificial offering” is also really the disciplined life of a student of sacred knowledge, for only after sacrificing with the disciplined life of a student of sacred knowledge does a man find the Self.

— Chandogya Upanishad 8.5.1

For the few centuries before and after the life of the Buddha (around 400 BCE) many sacred texts record a period of intense spiritual exploration. During this time seekers rejected Vedic ritualism and retreated from society into a life of asceticism in the forest. They sought teachers who could lead them to 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 as 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 for a long walk by yourself in nature: 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.

Experiment with Sally Kempton’s meditation exercises.

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