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The Wisdom of the Upanishats
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Pages (PDF): 64
Publication Date: 1907
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This book is comprised of four lectures delivered at the thirty-first anniversary meeting of the Theosophical Society, at Adyar, December, 1906 by Annie Besant.
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I cannot begin speaking today — the first Convention at which I have ever begun to deliver a lecture without our beloved President-Founder at my side — I cannot begin without sending to his sick-room a message of love, a message of reverent sympathy, to that most loyal, most faithful servant of the Blessed Masters, who for one-and-thirty-years has carried the banner of the Society unwaveringly, in spite of every difficulty, of every trouble, of friends who have betrayed, of enemies who have attacked, but who has never wavered, never, faltered, never been shaken in his loyalty to Them. And so may They be with him, may They receive him, when he passes from us into a fairer life.
Last year I spoke to you about the Bhagavad-Gita, the text-book of the Bhakta, the devotee, in the world. This year I am going to strive to speak to you about the essence of the Upanishats, the textbook of the Jnani. These books, the most wondrous part of the wondrous Veda, these books, which contain the Vedanta,' the end, the purpose of the Veda, these are to be our study for some brief hours. They tell us of Brahman — God — of the Universe, of Man: the nature of God, the nature of the Universe, the nature of Man; and they treat of these great fundamental truths in the most abstract, philosophic, metaphysical sense. They only descend into the concrete in order to give some illustration, some simile, something to render more luminous the exposition of thoughts that escape, that may be lost, by their very subtlety, thoughts almost too lofty for the mind of man to grasp. Herein, in this small volume, so small in compass but so vast in content, in this is given everything that words can give of the very essence of the Brahma-Vidya, the Divine Wisdom, Theosophy. I say, as much as words can give; for even through the Upanishats it is only possible to give the Brahma-Vidya in the form of intellectual exposition. Nothing else may words do. The true Brahma-Vidya, the knowledge of the Self, that is no matter for words, no matter for teaching. That cannot be given even by divinest Teacher to aptest pupil. It cannot be communicated by mouth to ear, from mind to mind, nay, even from Self to Self. Other initiations may be given upon wisdom's splendid way, initiations well-nigh incredible in their beauty; but this supremest initiation into the knowledge of the Self must be taken by each Self for itself, when it is ready to open out into the fulness of its own Divinity. None else may give it; none else may impart it; only Brahman within can know Brahman without. So that the last, the final, the most lofty initiation is Self-taken. None else may give it, nor may any withhold it.
And that Brahma-Vidya, what is it? It is the central truth of the Upanishats. It is the identity in nature of the Universal and the Particular Self; Tattvamasi, THAT thou art. Such is the final truth, such the goal of all wisdom, of all devotion, of all right activity: THAT thou art. Nothing less than that is the Wisdom of the Upanishats; nothing more than that — for more than that there is not. That is the last truth of all truths; that the final experience of all experiences.
Not long ago, reading in a great English review, [Hibbert Journal. Oct 1906. Loc cit. By William Tally Seeger] I came across an article called: The Vital Value in the Hindu God-idea, and in this it is remarked, and remarked quite truly: It is doubtful if in any other country than India so large a proportion of the reverently high-minded have agreed — and acted accordingly — that the greatest and eventually happiest use to which they could apply themselves was the assiduous seeking and the intrepid finding of God, all else in life being accounted as subordinate in importance. Now the writer there does not exaggerate. That is the central thought of the Hindu mind, and the result of that is very remarkable. For because of this, because of the identity in nature of the Universal and the Particular Self as stated in that Mahavakya which I quoted: Tattvamasi, THAT thou art, the knowledge of Brahman, of God, is possible for man. If it were not so. you might have belief, you might have argument, you might have reasoning, you might have a reasonable probability; but you could not have knowledge.
For it is the law of nature, if you look around you on the world outside, that you can only know that to which you can answer by your body, or your mind, as it may be. You can only know that which you share. If you can see, you only see because within the eye is vibrating the ether whose vibrations outside you are light. If you can hear, it is only because within your ear vibrate the air and the ether which outside yourself make sound. It is only when you have in yourself, in your own body, the same which is outside you, that you can know. How then should you know the universal Spirit, were it not that you share His nature in yourself? Because He is in you, you can know Him without you. Because, as the Upanishats declare, Brahman is the Akasha that surrounds you, and also the same Akasha within the heart, therefore can you know, and not only believe. And so the article, that I was just quoting, goes on to press this very point of the possibility of knowledge: To the educated Hindu, the writer says, the most significant attribute of self-conscious beings is their subjectivity. He habitually maintains that the idea of God, is always presented to the mind in the very same act as the idea of self. Plainly, the inference here is that God is to be found, not by means of any objective use of the mind; not by the ontological, nor the cosmological, nor the teleogical argument — all the arguments that are used in the West to prove the existence of God — but by penetrating all the mental strata with which mankind's civilising processes have overlaid man's diviner nature. That, he says, is the value in the Hindu God-idea. There is only one consciousness, and that is God-consciousness. The unfolding of consciousness anywhere is the unfolding of the God-consciousness. It may be in the mightiest Deva that rules a solar system, and sends his radiance throbbing over countless millions of miles in space. It may be the consciousness that is sleeping in the grain of sand, that the wind lifts up and tosses hither and thither, as too light to resist it.
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