This article is response to the allegations made against Upanishads from time to time by the self appointed Masters of Hinduism and paid Anti Hindu lobby. What a joke that most of those obsessed with Upanishads can hardly write Upanishad in Devnagri script and split it (Sandhi Vichheda) to know its meaning, forget about knowing Sanskrit grammar that is essential to open the mouth on theology of Upanishads.
What an irony that this pool of criticizers is full of Women Rights’ Activists that have issues with Yajnavalka asking Gargi to keep quiet in debate in Upanishads but they digest, like their Mom’s milk, the divine concepts of beating of wives, raping of captive women, sex slavery, polygamy, Coitus Interruptus with concubines etc sanctioned by their DIVINE BOOKS and PROPHETS.
Zombies, who are in delusion that they possess ‘ultimate truth’ as told by above Books and Prophets and advocate killing of apostates (someone who leaves ‘ultimate truth’), can leave this page now. Because someone, who can be killed/can kill others, for doing honest research and taking honest steps, will never read anything honestly. For rest, this article will surely help remove confusions. Lets begin!
1. Upanishads contradict each other and they are unrelated
The above criticism is something that is spurious and we will see why it is so right away, with examples. Let us take the theological concept of “One Only” or “Ekam Eva” and integrate a few sections of some of the key Upanishads.
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3/9/ 1 – 9: This contains the way Yajnavalka narrows down the Vedic deities from a few thousand to just ONE Supreme Being.
- Chandogya Upanishad 6/1/1-7 and 6/2/1-3 deal with the same concept by way of Shvetaketu receiving instructions from his Father.
- Svetasvatara Upanishad 6/10-13 deals with the same concept of a unitary, eternal, Supreme Being.
- Maitri Upansihad 6/17 deals with the same concept on how this Supreme Being is inconceivable.
We could go on and one but the point is that the Upanishads approach the Supreme immutable truth in multiple ways and try to articulate the manifest and un-manifest aspects of the Brahman. For those that are deluded, the multiple points of view may amount to contradictory perceptions but Upanishads are the epitome of an attempted understanding of the immortal, immutable Brahman by mortals caught in the dynamism of this Universe. And Upnaishads represent the Dharmic ethos of the acceptance of multiple viewpoints of the same Supreme Brahman.
2. Upanishads are against Vedas, call Vedas to be of lower knowledge and look down upon karmas prescribed in Vedas (based on Mundaka Upanishad).
This allegation stems from a willful misunderstanding of what Mundaka Upanishad is broadly articulating. The Para or Higher knowledge is the knowledge of the Supreme Being while the Apara or Lower Knowledge is that of following sacrificial rites and ceremonies. While the criticism (part of it) is that this Upanishad condemns rituals, can someone explain Mundaka Upanishad 1/2/ 1 – 6? These verses actually give a walkthrough of the right way of doing a sacrifices / rites.
The message of this Upanishad, when understood completely, with the help of a teacher is that the karma kanda sections of Vedas, when practiced, lead a soul to luminous worlds due to the Vedic rituals that were performed by making the Supreme Truth as the object. But the returns of this are temporary, as, the soul does not attain salvation but returns back to earth, due to lack of knowledge and understanding of the immutable truth.
However, to attain salvation or mukthi, after progressing in the karma kanda practice, one has to attempt to understand / obtain the higher knowledge Para. This higher knowledge can be attained only by knowing the Self and that is the way to salvation. And verses 2/2/4, 3/1/5 – 10, expound the same. And when this Upanishad calls someone a fool, it is so because, when salvation is superior to landing again on earth (after exhausting the kitty of good deeds accumulated during a lifetime) those that think that latter is all there are obviously missing something.
And let us also understand this. If a student has to understand calculus is math, the student ought to already know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Similarly, karma kanda is needed before one transitions to a higher plane to understand the superior cause of this Universe. Only those that are bred in seeking out schisms will try to play karma kanda against jnana kanda. And we should not be surprised at their desperation.
3. Verse from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad with sexual and male chauvinistic overtones
Let us set the framework right away – if there is something that is not acceptable ethically in verses of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we have no qualms in passing them or say rejecting them. But can the fans of the famous Doctor do the same with Quranic verses and with Hadiths? Without much ado, let us dive deeper.
We are dealing with verses 6/4 – 7. The verses in question are part of the third and last section of the Upanishad (the three sections being – Madu section, Yajnavalka section and Khila section) and they occur as part of procreation ceremonies. This verse occurs in the context of a lady conceiving a child as a sacred rite and not a mere act of ejaculation into a cervix. The previous verses expand the origin of this Universe by the sacrifice of Purusha (of RV). This Upanishad repeats this idea of Purusha Sukta is other places like 1/4/1 – 5 and also talks about the cosmogony by symbolizing this Universe as a Horse.
Anyway, in the context of the above verse, Prajapati creates a woman from himself and given she is going to bear the progeny, actually revers her. In the next verse, the physiology of a lady’s pelvis is equated to the altar of sacrifice (yajna) and the sexual act of intercourse as a sacrifice to form progeny. Then there is a verse that talks about semen needing to have its vitality. The next verse talks about a prayer to bestow vigor, manhood, womanhood, her beauty etc. And then comes the verse which mentions that if a woman is unyielding despite being cajoled into making love, she should be hit and that the husband should withhold the glory. Further verses go on to talk about conception and child birth. The withholding of glory part pertains to denying the woman a right to bear progeny by abstaining from sex.
Now, we find the verse about hitting the wife, out of place, as, in Rig Veda, the wedding rites and the chants to Asvins for bestowing vitality and childbirth and the way wife is treated are quite different from the verses mentioned about hitting the wife in this Upanishad. So we inclined to reject these questionable verses and they obviously appear to be later day additions. The same applies to the verses in the same Upanishad that talk about complexions of progeny and the kind of food that is to be eaten.
4. Chandogya Upanishad has sexual overtones
Verses 2/13/1 – 2: Well, people jump & swing from one corner to another to simply highlight the sexual overtones. But they have obviously not paused to reflect upon the idea behind the analogy. From the 2nd Prapathaka / Kanda 11 – 21, explain the fivefold Vedic chant in 10 different ways. Sexual act is a poetic expression of the nature of this 5 fold chant. I am quoting verses before and after the verses in question to drive home the point.
Verse 2/11/1: The wind is a Hinkara. Speech is a Prastava. The eye is an Udgitha. The ear is a Pratihara. The breath is a Nidhana.
Verse2/14/1: The rising sun is a Hinkara. The risen sun is a Prastava. Mid-day is an Udigtha. Afternoon is a Pratihara. When sun sets it is a Nidhana.
Verse 2/17/1: The earth is a Hinkara. The antariksha is a Prastava. The sky is a Udigtha . The regions of the compass are a Pratihara. The ocean is a Nidhana.
The next few verses use weather, elements, animals etc to draw an analogy with the way the chant has to be rendered. Those that have no clue about the ebb and flow of how Vedic chants are rendered cannot see anything other than pornography with the verses.
Verse 5/8/1: Just like the above verse, sexual overtone in this verse, is an instrument to express the course of formation of the likes of rain, food, immortality, sexual desire and foetus. The basis for this verse will be found in the 3rd kanda of the Upanishad where it starts with Svetaketu being questioned about his Vedic knowledge in an assembly of Panchalas. Here are a few preceding verses to drive home the point that Upanishads are not about pornography but rather they use sexual organs / act as a poetic expression, in parallel with what we saw above and what we are going to see below.
Verse 5/4/1 – 2: Yonder world, verily, O Gautama, is a sacrificial fire. In this case the sun is the fuel; the light-rays, the smoke; the day, the flame; the moon, the coals; the stars, the sparks. In this fire the gods offer faith (sraddha). From this oblation arises King Soma.
Verse 5/5/ 1 – 2: The rain cloud, verily, O Gautama, is a sacrificial fire. In this case wind is the fuel; mist, the smoke; lightning, the flame; the thunderbolt, the coals; hailstones, the sparks. In this fire the gods offer King Soma. From this oblation arises rain.
Verse 5/6/1 – 2: The earth, verily, O Gautama, is a sacrificial fire. In this case the year is the fuel; space, the smoke; night, the flame; the quarters of heaven, the coals; the intermediate quarters of heaven, the sparks. In this fire the gods offer rain. From this oblation arises food.
So if our friends wish to see pornography in the verses leaving out the true picture, it is their choice.
5. Unscientific concepts in Upanishads:
Someone seems to have forgotten to check his own backyard on this topic but let us see what the deal really is here.
Chandogya Upanishad 8/13/1: The whole of 8th prapathaka deals with the nature of soul. The idea of moon releasing itself from the mouth of Rahu is an allegory concerning the eclipse. People accustomed to taking literal meanings of their BOOK seem to apply the same yardstick here. The takeaway from this verse is just that a perfected soul, after shaking off blemishes across births, finally passes into Brahman’s abode and ceases to be born again. The verses talks about shaking off body and shaking off evil to attain perfection to proceed onward to Brahman’s abode. That is that. And if astronomy literally takes the expression of moon and Rahu’s mouth, they will be unable to predict eclipses in Panchang with such accuracy.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3/3/2: Again, the one that is criticizing this verse is missing the idea. Upon special request, we can share a picture of the Quranic idea of how this earth is supported, as a picture. But parking that aside Yajnavalka is seen here responding to a question by Bhujyu Lahyayani on what were the ends of the earth and where did the performers of the rites that homologize the horse as the Universe go. And the verses in this section of the Upanishad deal with the various rites and rewards.
Here is what Yajnavalka actually says: “This inhabited world, of a truth, is as broad as thirty-two days [i.e. days’ journeys] of the sun-god’s chariot. The earth, which is twice as wide, surrounds it on all sides. The ocean, which is twice as wide, surrounds the earth on all sides. Then there is an interspace as broad as the edge of a razor or the wing of a mosquito. Indra, taking the form of a bird, delivered them [i.e. the Pārikshitas] to Wind. Wind, placing them in him, led them where the performers of the rites were. Somewhat thus he [i.e. Sudhanvan] praised Wind. Therefore Wind alone is individuality (vyaṣṭi). Wind is totality (samaṣṭi). He who knows this overcomes a second death.”
Now, once again, the “by the book, literally” attitude of our friends comes to the fore. Sun traveling on a chariot is an expression. All that Yajnavalka is saying in relative terms is that the inhabited area of earth is roughly the distance traversed by sun in 32 days (roughly a month) in Hindu solar calendar. Then he says that the uninhabited area is twice as wide as the inhabited area of earth. Then he says that the oceans occupy twice the area that the uninhabited earth occupies & finally he uses the distant horizon as an exit point beyond which they head to, as a result of their deeds.
Had the likes of Yajnavalka believed that the horizon was a physical location, Hindu calendar that calculates solar months, sun’s transit across constellations and the corresponding entry / exit of seasons would not even have existed. So once again the overzealous effort to deride Upanishads falls flat. Parking aside the Vedic sacrifices, conceptually, what’s wrong with what Yajnavalka stated? And critics often say that the movement of Sun is unscientific but perhaps they have never heard of galactic or cosmic year based on the movement of the Sun in the milky way.
Brihadaranyak Upanishad 2/1/19 talks about 72,000 nerves but the human body has millions of nerves and hence it is unscientific.
Well, translations can only take people so far. The number 72,000 points to “Nadis” and not nerves or neurons. Nadis, in Ayurveda are channels or passages or ducts through which prana or active life force and apana or passive forces flow across the human body. Hita nadi, in Ayurveda is associated with heart and activity of the brain during the dreaming state of a jivatma. So without this basic understanding, self appointed champions of comparative religions seem to be crying from the roof top about Upanishads. Try verifying this with people that have recovered from conditions like fatigue syndromes, fibromyalgia etc, based on Ayurvedic treatment.
6. Upanishads promote casteism, prevent free-thinking and are divisive
Chandogya Upanishad 5/10/7: “Those whose conduct here on earth has been good will quickly attain some good birth—birth as a brahmin, birth as a kshatriya, or birth as a vaisya. But those whose conduct here has been evil will quickly attain some evil birth—birth as a dog, birth as a pig, or birth as a chandala.”
The confusion in the minds of those that are mounting criticisms is now becoming so obvious. They are linking the immutability of the Supreme Truth and the concept of the course of a soul based on reincarnation.
Let us address the charge on the so called birth based discrimination. The fifth chapter / tenth kanda of Chandogya Upanishad talks about those that do not attain salvation but rather those that by virtue of good deeds in a life end up returning to earth after exhausting their accumulated credits in the other world. Based on the merits / de-merits of their deeds they end up in their next life in specific kinds of families. Those that died after leading a life filled with unpleasant conduct end up in situations that are proportional to their misdeeds. And even if someone were born amongst Chandals, he / she has another shot at salvation unlike in some cults that tread the “One and Done” belief system with God willfully deluding one set of people.
And Adi Shankaracharya’s life has the most contemporary chronicle of a Chandal intellectually standing up to this great Acharya and enabling the latter to make a paradigm shift by rendering the anecdotal poem “MANEESHAA PANCHAKAM.” This poem states that a Chandal with a clear perception of the Supreme Brahman becomes a teacher’s teacher. And the gist of the above poem not only trashes the claim that was made about the birth based caste system but also illuminates what the illusion is what the understanding of Brahman really is. Here we go…
I owe to the gist of the poem below to a friend of mine that helped me with this. Adi Shankaracharya proclaims in his poem that it is his firm conviction that he alone is his Guru, be he a Chandala or a Brahmin who:
1. Has realized that he is not the seen, but that he is the one consciousness that illumines all experiences during the waking, dream and deep sleep states, the one consciousness that is the sole witness of the entire play of the universe, the one consciousness which is the very life spark in all forms – from the creator down to the ant. (This verse elucidates the Mahavakya ‘Pragnaanam Brahma’ – Consciousness is Brahman).
2. In his direct experience of the Supreme, has understood that the entire Universe is merely a play of the Pure consciousness, projected by his ignorance, expressed in the three moods of his mind (sattwa, rajas, and tamas), while he himself is that Brahman. (This verse elucidates the Mahavakya ‘Aham Brahma Asmi’ – I am Brahman, the one who has awakened from his limited sense of ego and realized the Supreme).
3. Reflecting upon the fact that this world of change is permanently in a state of flux, quietens his mind devoid of all disturbing thoughts and constantly contemplates upon Brahman, has burnt up all his past and future residual vasanas in the fire of pure consciousness, has offered his body to live through and exhaust its present destiny. (This verse elucidates the Mahavakya – ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ – That Thou Art).
4. With his mind made completely tranquil and meditates upon that which expresses itself as ‘I’, the subjective individuality in all creatures – plant, animal, human etc. That by whose light body, mind and senses are all enlivened to activity, even though by themselves they are inert and insentient, that which illumines everything as sun from behind a bank of clouds.
5. Having thus given the gist of the entire Advaita Vedanta based on the four Mahavakyas Sri Sankara concludes by saying that during the moments of quietitude a Yogi’s mind gains that ocean of bliss, the Brahman, the reality.
7. Upanishads curb freedom of thought, womens’ rights and earning cattle / money by expounding philosophical knowledge was a good profession.
Our friends have used crafty techniques to make the two points seen above. Let us expose the cunningness here. In the Vedic society, those that are Brahmins do not make a living other than by expounding the metaphysical knowledge, scriptural knowledge and by asking for alms. The moment a so called Brahmin gets exposed as being bereft of knowledge, he ceases to make anything more as an earning till he raises his bar and proves it in an assembly with peers and / or other sages with higher knowledge. And if a Brahmin misuses his knowledge, his friendship with other Brahmins ceases. It is in this context that sage Yajnavalka beats other sages / brahmins hands down.
And our friends that make so much noise about Gargi being asked by sage Yajnvalka to be quiet, apparently missed out the second round of questioning by Gargi in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3/8/ 1 – 12 and finally Gargi appreciates Yajnavalka’s knowledge. And our friends also seem to have missed out on a round of questioning that sage Yajnavalka faced from Uddalaka in the same Upanishad 3/7/1 – 23. If Yajnavalaka was so intent on throttling the questioning spirit, he need not have answered so much.
Given we have already called the bluff of Upanishads shutting down the questioning spirit, the death of Vidagdha Shakalya is to be looked at the frame of the stature of Shakalya, a theologian, asking unrestrained questions on a topic he ought to be knowledgeable about and his complete ignorance of the atman being none other than a divided aspect of the impersonal Brahman. But the irony is that this man, payed a price by his life to enable the articulation of the reduction of the multiplicity of deities to just the ONE reality.
Vidaghdha Shakalya, being the sage he was, also did not fully explain to Janaka during instructing the king about the resting place of the Supreme Brahman. Shakalya simply said that the heart is Brahman and left it at that. Yajnavalka , in his discussion with Janaka corrects this error by explaining the true permeating nature of the Supreme Brahman. This is a gross error that a teacher or a scholar cannot commit (sharing half baked knowledge). And in the same drift of things, when King Janaka, after hearing Yajnavalka offers him a reward, he refuses it saying that he (Yajnavalka) was yet to fully instruct Janaka on Brahman and continues the discourse. Our friends seem to have missed these portions of the Upanishad by design.
Anybody that reads the Yajnavalka section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad completely, will be at ease to understand the way the questioning spirit is expounded. Conditioned minds have a hard time understanding this.
I am moving ahead to establish the fact that in the Vedic society, a prostitute’s son can become a Vedic scholar. In the same Upanishad there occurs the name Satyakarma Jabala, few times. Satyakarma was the son a prostitute named Jabala. When he wishes to go to a gurukul to learn Vedas, he asks his Mother as to what would his gotra be, given that identifies the lineage. Jabala gives an honest response and says that she does not know his gotra. But she asks him to call himself as Satyakarma Jabala. When Satyakrma goes to sage Haridrumata, he confesses his Mother’s profession and also the fact that he knows not his Father’s name. The sage gladly admits him to the Gurukul (based on Satyakarma’s honesty) and Satyakarma, later becomes a Vedic Guru himself. Now, how long are people going to keep claiming that Upanishads are casteist?
And our friends’ hearts seem to bleed for women’s rights. Gargi is a lady and Rig Veda samhita has a dozen women sages. And hence it is so obvious that women were never prevented from indulging in the quest for Supreme Knowledge. So this argument falls flat too.
And here is the icing on the cake, where, complete misunderstanding of the Upanishadic thought goes, by our friends. Again, the following instance and the literal articulation of a verse in the Kaushitaki Upanishad, nails the desperation of our friends.
Kaushitaki Upanishad 3/1: This verse walks us through Pratardana, son of the king of Kashi, reaching Indra’s abode. But this prince, apparently has no knowledge of what is to be known about Brahman. And Indra sets about explaining that the knowledge of self / Atman is above all else including boons. When Indra says this: “He who knows me thus, by no deed of his is his life harmed, not by the murder of his mother, not by the murder of his father, not by theft, not by the killing of a Brahman. If he is going to commit a sin, the bloom does not depart from his face”
It is important to that this is what it means – Whoever has attained the knowledge of the Atman and his unity with it, and thereby has been delivered from the illusion of individual existence into the understanding of the infinite truth, his good and evil deeds come to zilch. They are no longer his deeds, simply because he is no longer an individual. And having attained this communion, he ceases to perform any deeds or anticipate any returns from the deeds.
So there we have it. From end to end, the attempted criticism is nothing but a flagrant effort to smear the Upanishads with negativity and deride the same, under the garb of self-appointed interfaith analysis.