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Upanishads Hinduism
B96202043 哲學二 黃晨軒
Hinduism is an extremely diverse tradition that consists of a wide range of
practices and beliefs, so it is absurd to attempt to represent Hinduism with a single
text, for no particular text is accepted as authoritative by most of Hindus and many
think of their religion as being grounded in a way of action, rather than a written text.
Nevertheless, there are still foundational texts to represent significant tenets of Hindu
philosophy like Upanishads. Upanishads which contain a group of texts have played a
decisive role throughout Hindu religious history; they have defined central
philosophical issues in India for centuries and continue to be a major source of
inspiration and guidance within the Hindu world today. The term ‘Upanishad’ means
literally to ‘sit near’ but has come to mean ‘esoteric teaching,’ for these texts represent
secret teachings passed on to groups of close disciples by forest-dwelling meditation
masters. The oldest and largest of the Upanishads is the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad.
This text is a compilation of a number of conversations between teachers and students
which has a great deal to say about the ultimate nature of world and the true identity
of human beings, so I choose it to make a introduction about Hindu philosophy.
According to Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad , in the beginning there was nothing
but the single unitary principle ‘brahman’ (The term Brahman is derived from a
Sanskrit root that means to ‘grow,’ ’expand,’ or ‘increase’. And then is settled into its
principal meaning of ‘ultimate reality,’ the primary cause of existence, or the absolute
ground of being. It is the fine essence that pervades the entire universe and totality of
all reality.). However, because it was alone, it was lonely and unhappy. In this state of
loneliness, it desired another and so divided itself into two parts, a male and a female.
The male and female pair began to interact sexually, and from this was born the entire
universe of diverse forms. There is a dimension of brahman that is completely beyond
the world of multiple forms. There are two aspects of brahman as the form and the
formless. Brahman as all forms is everything that is solid and transitory, on contrary,
brahman as the formless is ethereal and unchanging. Several passages insist that
Brahman is inexpressible and therefore impossible to define. ror example, it is neither
short nor long; it is without air an space; it has no taste or smell, it has nothing within
or outside of it. That is, brahman is completely beyond the world we experience with
our sense. This is often expressed as brahman is ‘not this, not that.’ On the other hand,
there are passages that identify brahman with everything we experience: ‘brahman is
made of mind, made of sight, made of earth, made of water, made of desire and the
desireless, made of righteous and unrighteous. This is view as ‘He is made of this and
made of that.’ These two different ways of describing Brahman led to divergent
understandings of the world and the self, which in turn resulted in two different
religious practices.
Shankara is a famous exponent of one of the interpretations of Upanishads. For
Shankara, brahman is the only true and the sole reality. The world is ultimately unreal.
The distinction between God and the individual soul is only an illusion, and the world
of diversity must finally be false. On his view, the spiritual endeavor is the realization
of this ultimate fact. The goal of a meditative practice is to lead one to the insightful
realization that ‘I am brahman.’ Thence, the practice requires us to withdrawal from
ordinary social and domestic activities and our senses.
Ramanuja, however, is an exponent of the opposite interpretation of Upanishads.
The world is the result of a real transformation of brahman. Brahman is the creator,
preserver, and destroyer of this universe. The entire world is the body of brahman.
The world of matter and individual souls separates from brahman at the time of
creation. The individual soul’s aim is not to become brahman but to become the
eternal blissful knower of brahman. Life is a cosmic play, wherein brahman is the
ultimate Playwright. The ordinary human urge to control the outcome of all our
actions is tantamount to an effort to usurp the role of the Playwright. This action result
suffering and bondage in a potentially wonderful situation. In order to reinstate us as
the wonderful situation, we should surrender to brahman completely. Then we can
live in the world freely and with joy. Everything can be used as fuel for the spiritual
life because they lead to the knowledge of brahman, and the goal of such devotional
acts is a kind of union with brahman.
In my opinion, I consider the two interpretations of Upanishads are irrelevant of
Upanishads, because they are just two attitudes of our desires and result to two life
styles. Shankara’s interpretation considers our desires valueless and regards them as
the obstacles of us to achieve highest state, so we should restrain our desires. On
contrast, Ramanuja’s interpretation considers our desires valuable, which can help us
to know and love brahman, and suggest us not to restrain but to sanctify our desires.
People who think life is fugacious or a mistake will prefer Shankara’s interpretation and
often withdrawal from ordinary social and domestic activities and our senses. On the
other hand, People who think life is marvelous or a gift will prefer Ramanuja’s
interpretation and enjoy various kinds of experience.