Mahavakyas of the Upanishads (Part 2)
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
Let's turn to our Mahavakyas and continue. I think we were actually on number 7 if I recall. Because this is the famous one where Svetaketu is talking to his teacher. He makes a statement: That which is the subtle essence, the root of all, this whole world has for itself. That is the true, that is the self. Tat twam asi. Thou art that. Literally, that art thou, Taketu Tat twam asi. I even put in the little notation there. This famous text emphasise the divine nature of the human soul, the need to discriminate between the essential self and the access which is confused in the ??? in which it is bound.
Essentially what that means is that again we perceive individuality, we perceive separateness, but we recognise that, at the root of everything, it is the same. Thou art that. So, it's referring to the inner essence of all things. That is really considered to be the most sublime insight of the Upanishads.
Let me just repeat. I keep saying this, but just to make sure we're clear on this. Right now, we're still exploring the Upanishadic vision. That's important to recognise, because that is an important, but only one element, of the whole modern day Hinduism. So, there's some people who confuse Upanishadic teaching with Hinduism. There's a lot of Hindus who want to do that. They want to tell you that the Upanishads is Hinduism. But, in fact, Hinduism is much more complex, much more diverse, much more varied than that. So, right now, we're painting the Upanishadic vision and we'll show you, in due course of time, how this particular vision fits into the larger picture.
Because one of the points we want to make is to, kind of, see how this fits into what I call the three Varna structure. I thought about just, and if this is not going to bless you, then throw it in the trash, because later on we will look at this chart with much more care and more – I had extra handouts from Gordon College – when I taught this at Gordon College. Some students like to have, kind of, an advance view of things. Some find it like overwhelming and they don't want it. If you don't want this, then don't worry about it. But, it may help you to see kind of where we're going in all of this. Because you'll notice, when you get it, that I call this the three vehicle structure of modern Hinduism. And essentially, what I'm going to be arguing in the class as a whole, is that Hinduism really has three major branches essentially. It has two branches – two major branches, philosophical and popular, but then underneath that you have the way of knowledge, the way of action and the way of devotion – jnana marga, karma marga, bhakti marga.
Now everybody in India knows jnana marga, karma marga, bhakti marga. There's some other margas that people try to advance, but eventually they get absorbed into one of these three. So, at this point, we really haven't explored at all the one on the very right – the way of devotion. That's a big part of modern-day Hinduism. We haven't even talked about it yet. The way of action and works, we have talked about caste and some of that. We've dealt with some of those things. And we're just exploring on the left – see, way of knowledge – the Vedas, the Upanishads, Brahman, tat twam asi. See, this is now – that's the familiar territory that we're in.
So, essentially we're building the major kind of structures of Hinduism even though we realise that, if you were to stop a man on the street as it were, that man on the street could fall into a number of categories. You could meet somebody, as I did just this week – met a man who was a deeply committed to the Upanishads, he was one of these sanyasins, and he was either a clear follower of jnana marga. To him the Upanishads are the end of everything. But the average person in Koolhan, the village where our school is, would probably be over here on the right – the way of devotions. So, yeah, people kind of have different perspectives, but we have to build this thing historically and properly. So, the way of devotion does not emerge until after Buddhism. This is a concession to Buddhism. We haven't got to that point yet.
So, for many, many years – centuries – in Hinduism there was only the way of knowledge and the way of works. There was the Brahmat, the Brahmins and there was everybody else. Essentially that's what you've got. That's the simplest structure of Hinduism. You have the Brahmins who believe in the right, the truth of knowledge – and everybody else who just has to do what they can with their karma because there's no other way they can advance because they're not Brahmins. So, essentially that was the only two choices.
The way of devotion both complicates and beautifies the whole thing, because it totally changes the possibilities within Hinduism and in many ways creates a lot of good opportunities for Christian witness that otherwise would not be present – and also horrifies Hinduism as well, I should say. It both beautifies and horrifies – all that's there. Everything in India is in extravagance. The weather – you've got either it really rains or it's really dry. You don't really get like a light sprinkle; you know, just a warm day. In India it's either hot or it's cold. It's either raining or it's dry. People are either fabulously rich or horribly impoverished. You know, you've got, you don't really have the kind of middle. The clothes are like really bright or they're really dreary. I often said that, in my experience Indians, most Indians I know, are in terms of bodily hygiene, are the cleanest people in the world – which I know goes against the stereotype, because we often think of people with lack of hygiene. But actually, in my experience, most Indians are extremely clean. They may inhabit a very dirty town. And they live in a very dirty home. But they, bodily, are extremely clean. So you have the cleanest people in the world living in some of the dirtiest homes in the world. It's amazing. It's extravagance. Everything in India's extravagant.
So, if this helps you to see kind of where we're going, then hold that. We'll eventually pass out another one with maybe some slight alterations on it and we'll look at it with more detail. But we can't do that yet.
OK, the eighth Mahavakya, the great utterance, is this text from the Svetasvatara Upanishad, second chapter – which is about the mirror stained by dust. Even as a mirror stained by dust shines brightly when it has been cleaned, so the embodied one, when he has seen the real nature of the self, becomes integrated, fulfilled purpose and freed from sorrow.
This mirror imagery is really, really important. What is the dust on the mirror? What is the dust on the mirror? What does the mirror represent?
Answer: Would it be karma?
The dust is karma. Definitely. Definitely. You have not been in a plane. You should be able to answer these questions just like that. OK, the dust is karma. What would the mirror be?
Answer: Your atman.
Your atman. Great. OK, so we're making progress here. So, essentially everyone has an atman. You can't see the reality of that until you clean off the dust, which is the karma. So the way of works, for example, would argue that through various activities, keeping your, you know, your dharma, you can clean it. The Brahmins say through proper knowledge you can clean the dust off. But eventually you look into the mirror.
When you look into the mirror that's been cleaned of all the dust, what do you see? Third question. First question: What is the dust? ??? definitely karma. Second question: What is the mirror? Atman. Third question: When you finally clean it off and you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Brahman. Very good. We are making progress. OK. That's it. That's it. Because now you see the real nature of the self. Ignorance keeps us from seeing the true nature of the self. That's the key thought. The key theological development, how this is used theologically, is that different groups begin to argue that their marga, their pathway, is the way to clean off the dust. So, the Brahmins say that knowledge is the key to getting rid of the dust – which means studying the Vedas, learning the Upanishads, and ultimately getting the insight of tat twam asi. The karma marga people say: No, it's not that important to study the Vedas. You can have this experience just by keeping your dharma – keeping, you know, if you're a Kshatriya, be a good Kshatriya – that's the kind of whole Bhagavad-Gita thing. You know, fulfil your own duties in the stages of life and all that. Later on, the bhakti people will argue that these gods can clean it off for you or can help you in some way to clean it off if you're devoted to them. They have seen to the mirror clearly. So if you can be lost in that god or that goddess, because that god has seen clearly, you will see clearly. So, this eventually becomes kind of like the launching pad for different groups in India to advocate and therefore different gurus to advocate various practices, both ascetic practices, meditational practices or even pilgrimages or even dietary things – all kinds of ideas about how to clean the mirror.
Where Dehradun is, where the school is, there's a very famous pilgrimage point and so they have what they call Kumba Melas. A Kumba Mela is a pilgrimage to a holy site and you dip into the Ganges River. And they believe at certain points, auspicious times, that heaven will come very close to earth. And if you can dip in the river at that point all your karma will be taken away. So that's a very powerful thing. They believe the gods are very, very close at that particular spot.
It actually goes back to an ancient Hindu myth – because all the mythology ties into all the most exalted Hinduism. And there is a story about this goddess who are, god – they're fighting over this stuff called amrith. It's a like a milky substance that will give you eternal life. So they're all fighting over it. So, there's times when the demons control it. There's times when the gods control it. And so there's all kinds of history about this and different everything is tied into this amrith and one way or another it seems like a lot of the early mythology. At one point, the demons have taken this coconut ball full of this stuff and they're just fleeing, trying to escape from the gods. In the process of fleeing, they slightly tip it and seven drops come out and fall. And these drops hit at seven points in India along the Ganges Valley. One of them is Haridwar. O, you've been there. One of the drops feel there. Varanasi. Allahabad. Very famous places in India. So, essentially, people believe that because that drop of immortality fell there … And every child in India grows up reading these stories. This is all part of their popular culture, see. So even if you don't know about Hindu philosophy, they encounter it through stories as children. So they learn that going to Haridwar is a special thing.
So, we're right there at Haridwar. So that all these pilgrims are coming. And they believe that by dipping in Ganges River, they can be freed from the dust on the mirror. So this becomes a kind of paradigm that launches eventually into millions of different ways in which a person can conceivably get rid of their karma. Not everybody is out there studying the Upanishads, believe me. Many people are – a more likely scenario of the typical Hindu is not a person on the banks studying the Vedas or the Upanishads, but someone going on pilgrimage to dip in the Ganges River. It's so much more, you know, like popular kind of Hinduism.
So, but it all comes out of the Upanishads. That's the thing that's interesting. It's rooted in this, even though the expression's become very popular. And eventually I want to show you how even the most popular village Hindus, who know nothing about the Brahminical teachings, virtually everything they do in one way or another is supported by the philosophy. All of this is very much ... this is much more integrated than people realise. And there's a lot of support that's shown through this. OK, any questions about the mirror imagery?
OK, number 9 is the famous transmission. I think we have discussed this. Why did we already discuss this? I'm trying to think what was the context – but haven't we already discussed the transmission at the end of one's life? This is the text. Maybe we just never read the text.
This is where I mentioned to you that when a man thinks he's about to depart, he says to his son: You are Brahman. You are the sacrifice. You are the world. The son answers: aham Brahman, is the Sanskrit. I am Brahman. I am the sacrifice. I am the world.
The I am Brahman is essentially the way you would testify to the tat twam asi. There's no essential difference between Brahman and the self. I am the sacrifice clearly ties the Upanishads back into the Vedic worldview, which is sacrifice-based. So, it's less important from our modern-day purposes, but it's important in their purpose. I am the world, again, recognises the oneness with the world as well. That actually is probably against a certain school of philosophy there that tried to argue the world is separate from us. So, this transmission is really important because this lays the basis for the cosmical homology idea. You identify the individual self with the universal self. And, by extension that's very famous, you know, the sacrifice of the altar becomes the sacrifice of the world and so forth. The cosmical homology between the self and Brahman is the key thought.
This has also been used because the transmission occurs between the Brahminical father and his son. This has been used to reinforce the role of the Brahmins, the high caste Brahmins. And so it basically says that, unless you have the insight of tat twam asi, I am Brahman, then you cannot be released from moksa. And that's, of course, very, very important. So, this would be a way of turning back a multitude of ideas about how the dust can be cleaned from the mirror. This is reinforcing Brahmicial stronghold in Hindu thought. All right, any questions about number 9?
Question: I'm getting a lot of problem ??? Christianese – when they say: I am the sacrifice, what do they mean by that? Because when we say – we know what it means when Jesus is our sacrifice, but what does it mean when a Brahmin says: I am the sacrifice?
OK, what that means, and again, Christians have tried to make a lot of like parallels and all that too, but I think it's ??? a long stretch. But essentially in the Vedic worldview, they believe that by sacrificing things they create heat, tapas, and that releases power. And so the idea of sacrifice is long held in ancient religions to be a way of, you know, placating the gods or whatever else. All right. So, that's part of the Vedic worldview.
So, the Upanishads – because they're not separate books, they're appendices to the Vedas – the Upanishads cannot, even though they do it, they cannot be seen to be producing new theology. So, the Upanishads essentially is vastly importing tons of new theology. But they have to do it very carefully by: Well, this has always been there. That's even true, by the way, for what we do with Christianity. You know, it's hard to introduce a new thing in India. See, you have to somehow tie it in to like long hopes, long aspirations – because the Indians don't like new things. So, the fact that it says here: I am the sacrifice is just simply saying that the Brahmins idea of tat twam asi and of the monism encompasses everything, including the Vedic sacrifice. So it's essentially, I think, a way of connecting to a major paradigm in the Vedic worldview.
And I don't think there's any place where a Christian can really say: I am a sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the sacrifice. In some sense, we could say, you know, I die daily or, you know, I have been crucified with Christ. In that sense maybe we can talk in those terms, but it's not really ... it's difficult to kind of tie that in.
OK, number 10 – the tenth Mahavakya, is a really long passage – but a very, very important one. This is known as the Inner Controller. It's an extremely important development in later theology – in later Hindu philosophy. This is … actually becomes part of a descent movement in Hindu philosophy run by Ramanuja rather than Sankara. We haven't got to those figures yet, but this becomes very, very important because this is going to find – this is going to be trying to find a way to develop the concept of how our qualities of our lives, the differentiation that we see, how that relates to the oneness of god.
So, essentially what he is arguing is that the Brahman, the Atman, the universal self, is within everything controlling everything that we do – this Inner Controller idea. You look at all these things – the reoccurring phrase is: the Inner Controller. Look at verse 17. He who dwells in the organ of speech, yet is within speech, whom speech does not know, whose body speech is, who controls speech within, he is your self, the Inner Controller, the immortal. He who dwells in the I, yet is within the I, whom the I does not know, whose body the I is, who controls the I from within – he is your self, the Inner Controller, the immortal. So, this is a very important con... the term, this phrase Inner Controller, is the term Antaryamin in Sanskrit. Antaryamin is Brahman in the Atman. The idea is how does Brahman activate and fill the lives of people for their various things they do. Well, because he's in everything. He is in everything.
Verse 22: He who dwells within the understanding and is within the understanding, whom the understanding does not know, whose body the understanding is, who controls the understanding from within – he is your self, the Inner Controller, the immortal. So, the divine presence affirmed as the essence of self. This is that very well-known thing.
The last three are very short ones. Just to be aware of it. You'll notice that I've taken these texts from a single Upanishad, but from two verses about four verses apart, or five verses apart – verse 11 and verse 16. And the reason I did this is to show you how the Upanishads toys with these two forms of Brahman. Verse 11: the one god hidden in all beings, all-pervading, the inner self of all beings, the ordainer of all deeds who dwells in all beings, the witness, the knower, the only one – nirguna Brahman, devoid of qualities. OK, that's verse 11. So, it's describing essentially god, Brahman, as ultimately devoid of qualities . It goes on to say: He is the maker of all, the knower of all, the self-cause, the knower, the author of time, the possessor of qualities. You should underline those two phrases: devoid of qualities in verse 11 and possessor of qualities in verse 16. And your Upanishads, all these texts you can quickly turn to and look at the overall text and get the flow of this, but I want you to be aware of this text, because this is what troubled the great commentators of the Upanishads greatly – especially Sankara.
He's deeply troubled by these statements here. How can Brahman be devoid of qualities and yet possessor of qualities? That becomes a very, very important philosophical discussion in the later commentaries on the Upanishads. So, they all resolve it in different ways.
But the way that Sankara resolves it, as we'll see later in more detail, is to say that Brahman is being spoken of in two ways – nirguna and saguna. And so he essentially uses this grid to go all through the Upanishads, and whenever Brahman is spoken of with qualities, he says: OK, that's saguna. Whenever god is spoken of without qualities, that's nirguna. And he can that in a way that creates in abstraction of the divine self and essentially makes god unknowable – because you can't speak with assurance about god, because that's reduced to saguna which is ultimately illusory. It's important theological hermeneutic for Sankara because Sankara is essentially, all of his theology is driven, by one overriding concern: to promote and to defend the absolute freedom of god. God is not dependent on anything. So the only way he has to do that is to promote the idea of nirguna Brahman.
Because once you start saying, for example, that god is just, you have to compare him to human justice and our human justice is incomplete. It's not always fair and accurate and therefore it has a way of soiling god's nature. And so the only way to really preserve god's freedom, god's independence, god's total purity, is to allow human language to only function at a lower level.
Now, why is this important? It's very important, as my book tries to bring out, because what Sankara does in the name of defending god's greatness – and you can't argue against him at that point. I mean, I admire Sankara's commitment to fighting for the freedom of god. I make that point in the dialogues. I say to my Hindu friend, I say: I appreciate this. Because we've done just the opposite. We've tended to make God totally dependent on our needs. God becomes like a genie. You know, we pray and we read the Bible and He's to do things for us.
On the other hand, if we allow Sankara to go unchecked, which is what he does, especially Sankara's followers, then you can know nothing with certainty about god anymore. You cannot say: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. John 3:16 is an impossibility – because the minute you start saying that, you start speaking human language, human terminology, propositional truth is out the window. So you cannot make truth statements: God is anything. And that becomes a huge problem for Christian communication.
And Sankara, I think, creates a very powerful barrier to Christian penetration. And even though most Hindus are not Sankarites, most Hindus have been influenced by Sankara. And that influence is mostly negative to the gospel. ??? Sankara, he was a Muliali – he was from south-west India, he's a Keralite. Brilliant-minded guy. His writings, by any philosophical standards of the world – you compare it to Plato, Aristotle, any of the great thinkers of the world – his thinking is air-tight. Not that it's true. I'm saying that it's internally consistent within its overall falseness. So, it's difficult to penetrate it, because he follows certain line of reasoning and he maintains certain commitments and he rigorously holds to that. And because of that, it makes it ... the worldview's difficult.
This is not like going into a tribal area where the worldview is weak or whatever. This is a very difficult worldview to penetrate. And therefore you can't ... you've got to take it very seriously. And the influence that Sankara's had on India is very profound.
And one of the influences that has come about is that we cannot speak with assurance about God. It's a big problem for Christians – because we believe fundamentally the Bible has revealed true truths about God. Hindus are basically sceptical about that – even in the villages – even in the most backward village. They don't really have a confidence that somebody can speak with accuracy about God. And because of that, we have problems. And it goes back to Sankara. So, this is a very important Mahavakya because it kind of lays that groundwork. Thoughts or comments about number 11?
Or about the ... we've already discussed nirguna saguna quite a bit, but about some of these texts at least that provide the basis for that theology. Ramanuja, thankfully, praise God, Ramanuja totally rejects this and provides an equally profound system of theology that refutes this – which has been a great blessing to Christians, because that has provided a little opening for us. But Sankara is still the king – and so, it's difficult.
Number 12. Very small one. Two birds, companions, always united, clinging to the self-same tree. Of these two, the one eats the sweet fruit and the other looks on without eating. OK. More questions coming your way. Put on your thinking cap. You have two birds sitting on a tree branch. One is eating the fruit – eating the berries or whatever, filling themself. One is just sitting there looking. Why is that a Mahavakya? Why is that one of the great sayings of India? Who are the two birds? Are these birds?
Well, yeah, you could say that. That's definitely that point. OK, I was just looking more generally – definitely we're not people. But yes, those people could be a Brahmin and one could be a Sudra. And I'm just curious, which one's the Sudra? Which one's the Brahmin?
Answer: Well, I would have to say that the one that's eating the sweet fruit would be the Brahmin. The other one would be the Sudra.
Ahhh, isn't that interesting? I thought that you might say that. They don't see it that way. They might not agree with that. This actually ... this little metaphor of the two birds has been used in a lot of ways. Everybody likes to use this. Almost anything you say can be right. So, anyone else want to suggest anything?
Answer: Well, the Brahmins could be the one detached. He's just observing, but he's not affected by the pleasures of this world.
Right. Definitely. That's definitely used a lot. That idea – that the one not eating is the person freed from karmic …
Answer: Or, you could say, to really know something you have to experience it, so book knowledge isn't enough, you have to eat it.
Yeah, yeah, right, OK. There's no end to how you could interpret this. I would say ... let's just look at two major ways it's interpreted – then everything else is kind of a various variation of it. But the one way is the way that you have suggested is that, essentially, the two birds represent two people. The person enjoying the fruits of their work and their karma, their activities, it's eating the fruits of their past deeds – that is the person who's still captured by their karma. The one who looks on is the one that's unaffected – who sees the true nature of Brahman. So that would be the person who has the insight of tat twam asi. He no longer eats the fruits of his past deeds or actions. He's simply content, because he's seen the nature of Brahman.
The other idea that was developed is that actually both of these birds are Brahman – not Brahmins but Brahman. That the one ... what will be the two Brahmans? Which one is which? The one eating fruit is what?
Saguna Brahman. The one not eating fruit?
Niguna Brahman. Yeah, that's it. Those are different ways it's interpreted. In a way, it's a ... has been used to kind of reinforce number 11 – Mahavakya number 11. And it's also been used to talk about, you know, eating fruit so your past deeds and all that.
In practical speaking, even though we've used the expression nirguna saguna because that's the .. this is actually technically the philosophical distinction that they make as philosophers – like Sankara talks in this category – nirguna, saguna – without qualities, with qualities. But in practice among most people who are talking, preaching, speaking, whatever, in Hindu groups and organisations, they will usually say a Brahman to mean nirguna. So Brahman always means nirguna Brahman. And when they say saguna they say isvara.. So isvara becomes the personal form of god.
So people who say that Sankara or the Upanishads teaches a personal god, it's a difficult one because if ... OK according to Sankara this personal god that we're talking about is actually ultimately illusory – because it's saguna – and therefore has no ultimate reality to it. So it's a little bit troubling. So, if someone says the Upanishads teaches a personal god – if they mean by that that individual people in their respective lives experience god in various ways in their lives, then the answer is yes. But if you mean that the Upanishads teach a personal god meaning that there is an objective god on the front of the universe – no, it doesn't teach that. Because your experience of god is illusory, ultimately, from this perspective.
So, you be very, very careful about this because the language can elude you because when you read it you assume: Hey this is talking about god. God is this. God is that. But they're always – according to Sankara at least – whenever he sees god spoken of in these ways, he immediately makes it in the saguna category – which is isvara, which is ultimately illusory. So if you have, for example, god created whatever. Well, god created some... – god created the world, for example, is a statement which we would interpret as being the eternal God who actually objectively exists created the world. When they say god created the world, they don't mean that – at least, the Sankarites don't. Other groups might mean that. But certainly, the kind of the hard-core Upanishadic vision would not accept that.
Which brings us to the last of the 13 Mahavakyas. I would say this is probably not a Mahavakya in the, like, larger sense – if you were go to a school and study Hinduism by Hindu scholars. But from a Christian point of view, it's extremely important and I think should be included in at least our list of Mahavakyas because of its importance in later development in Indian Christian thought. This is the last Upanishad.
I think I saw you had your Upanishads here. Can I see your Upanishad? This is – I think it's ... I'm not sure ... I'm looking at this particular edition, but I think it's the same as mine. It should be the last one. Yes. This is an appendix here. So, this is the last Upanishad in the book. The last few verses of the Upani... I've photocopied off here verse 9 which is the last verse of the last Upanishad in the book.
Now, this is important, because it's widely believed that, toward the end, you'll make a great utterance – like when you die, like the transmission. You'll reveal things that previously you have not revealed. This is believed by many people – those who accept that these are the principal Upanishads. If you accept that this is the corpus of these ... the documents that we accept, then you take very seriously the fact that the whole thing culminates in this last revelation which seems to give at least some limited qualities to Brahman. They won't call it qualities, but at least some attributes at least. And that's this text here.
He alone who is possessed of these qualities is the Brahmana. This is the view of the Vedic text, in tradition, ancient lore and history. So you're tying it back in to the Vedic text and the Brahmana refers to the Brahminical caste. The accomplishment of the state of the Brahmana is otherwise impossible. Meditate on Brahman – the self who is ... Now notice that. Underline the word is there – because that's really important. Whenever you have the Upanishads saying that Brahman is something, that's very, very important. Brahman is being consciousness and bliss without a second. Meditate on Brahman, the self who is being, consciousness and bliss without a second. This is the Upanishad.
Now, that is a hugely important statement and has opened up all kinds of discussion in Hinduism, especially in the Christian discourse. Because you have the three designations of Brahman, which are ... which we've already looked at this in the other lists – Sat Cit Ananda. So these three expressions, three terms, represent at least three indicators of Brahman. That's not necessarily using the word qualities – because Sankara would not even like that. But at least they're indicators. They're pointers to a reality. But we're finally able to say something about Brahman.
So, if you say that he is being, he is consciousness and he is bliss – as we've already looked at when we discussed these top terms. This is the text that underscores that. It represents a very important – because this is largely the theological point upon which Christians have tried to build Trinitarian theology that impacts the philosophical Hindus. So this has been developed by a number of people, all the way up to the present day. There's some beautiful Christian hymns – I should bring one in to show you later on in the semester – written to Sat Cit Ananda. It's fully Christian. It develops each of the three persons of the Trinity in light of this. So later in the course, we will touch back on this again. But this is the text, and the only text, by the way, in the entire Upanishads that makes this statement. This is it right here.
Question: so in saying, though, who and he, like, the self who is being and when you say he is being consciousness and bliss, isn't that giving anthropomorphic characteristics to nirguna Brahman.
The he in this opening text is not referring to Brahman, but to the Brahmana. This is the language that I'm using here. So, please forgive me for referring to god as he. I know you prefer something else like it. To be more accurate, every place I've said the word he I should have just used the word Brahman. OK, Brahman is being, consciousness and bliss. But this eventually developed by Christians in personalistic terms.
One of the interesting things about Sankara and Ramanuja – the two philosophers that we'll look at later in the course – is Sankara always refers to Brahman as it. Ramanuja always refers to Brahman as he. And that of course ??? a big difference. And so, you have in Hindu philosophy a big divide between those who accept personalistic descriptions of god and those who reject it. And the basic Upanishadic vision, according to Sankara, does not accept it – a personal view of god. But other people will take this and develop it in a more personalistic way – personal deism.
OK, so there we have the major Mahavakyas of the Upanishads. OK, questions or comments about this.
I want to briefly highlight a few major metaphors. We won't have time to finish this. But I want to maybe briefly highlight ten metaphors that are the most commonly used metaphors in Hindu discussion. This is important for two reasons. Most people find Hindu philosophy to be a bit opaque. I know that you don't, because it's all been just opened up so obviously clearly, right? I realise that it's a bit opaque. It takes a while, as I said before, to kind of jump into this stream. You know, and the water, it is like the Ganges River. It's a good metaphor. It's a bit muddy at times.
But, what surprises people is how does such sublime philosophy – things like tat twam asi, the identification of your self with the self of the universe – that's not something that like the average child would just like pop out – tat twam asi. And yet, it's so pervasive in the Hindu worldview. How are these principles passed down as it were? And the way they're passed down is through ... two ways – is through metaphors and through the great epics of India, one of which you're reading, the Bhagavad-Gita, or at least you're reading a portion of that great epic. The Mahabharata, which the Gita's a part of, and the Ramayana are very famous epics. And then there's many regional epics that everybody knows around Shiva, around various gods and goddesses. And these metaphors are really, really famous. Because of that, they kind of bring things to life.
And we will look at these. For example we've already looked at the rope snake, right? The rope snake in the tent – haven't we discussed that one already? We haven't. OK, this is the most famous metaphor in all of Hindu philosophy. This is the metaphor. It's called rope snake. In fact, it's so popular, that Sankara, in his writings, when he wants to recall it, he doesn't even retell the story – because everybody knows the story. It's like saying as in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know, you don't need to go over the story again, because everybody knows the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. So he'll just say: As in rope snake. Because when he says, as in rope snake, everybody knows the story of rope snake. So, this is pervasive right through. So, is the story of rope snake.
A guy comes into his tent one night. He's tired. He wants to go to sleep. And he opens his tent up. He has like maybe a lantern or something and he looks down and to his horror he sees a snake curled up on the floor of his tent. Now that's something every Indian can appreciate. Because we put our campus – we built the buildings when we first got there, there are just snakes constantly everywhere – snakes, snakes, snakes everywhere. Go into a classroom to teach, there'd be a big huge cobra curled up in the wall. It was like unbelievable. All that's gone now – you'll be happy to know – but we have records of the first year. We caught something like 58 – maybe it was 78 first year. It was 58, 48 and then down to 20 something. We kept record of how many snakes we caught on campus every year. It's getting less and less and less every year. Now it's like one or two a year at the most.
So, the idea of going into your tent and seeing a snake curled up is not an unusual problem to have, all right. So the guy goes in. He sees this snake. He's petrified. He's so scared. But then, upon closer examination, he realises it's not a snake. It's a curl of rope. He was fooled. It looked like a snake, but it was actually a rope. That is the most famous metaphor in Hinduism. All of these are famous, but, I must say, that's got to be way up there on the list, if not number one, because it's just constantly alluded to.
So, you can imagine the way this is used. Part of the problem of Hinduism is to distinguish between perception and reality. You know, you perceive that you are an individual self, but in reality you are Brahman. Well, that's a huge perceptual gap. You perceive that the world has ultimate reality. It does not have ultimate reality. You perceive that, you know, you have individual existence. You actually don't have individual existence.
Buddhism is full of this. Buddhism is going to go even farther, you know, because Buddhism denies Brahman, denies atman. So there's no basis for any reality. So, Buddhism also likes this idea of perception and reality.
This metaphor's a very important metaphor. It means that because you see something that appears as x (a snake) it may in fact be y (a rope). And so that's something that every child can understand. And so people use this.
They also use the – it's like the same category of metaphor as rope snake, but they'll use the ... especially down south with the Mulialis.. Sankara uses the thing, mother of pearl. You know, he says: You go, you look out on the beach and you see mother of pearl shell – very famous shell in Kerala. It looks like silver. When the sun shines on it, it's like silver. You think: O this is great. I found silver. You run with excitement. You grab the shell. And it's just a shell. You thought you'd found silver. And they use the rope snake and the mother of pearl to say – because one's an experience of horror, one's an experience of joy – but both are found to be false. So, whether your experience in life is negative, like suffering, or you're completely content and happy and well-fed, either way it doesn't matter. The reality is different from the perception – just like finding silver or seeing a snake are two different things – one a very negative experience, one a very positive experience – but in either case, the perception is different than reality. So, that's a very, very important example.
They use the example in the same category of a dream. You have a dream. You dream that you did this, you did that, you did the other. You wake up and you realise you didn't do any of those things. You were in your bed all night. But you dreamed that you were out, walking through the woods. You dreamed that you were riding a horse. You dreamed that you were doing whatever. Every human being in the world, to my knowledge – I don't think there are any exceptions – everybody dreams. Dreams are an inherent part of the human make-up. And there's all kinds of explanations for why we dream. But the fact is, it's a universal human experience. So, that's something that everybody understands – that you have dreams. And you wake up and the dreams are different from what you're actually doing. And this is also used.
All these are examples to point out the difference between the facts and the illusion. Comments or questions about this? Yes.
Question: ??? it seems at some point that that whole ??? does it really teach that?
Let me just briefly answer and we'll come back to it next time because it's an important question actually – because there are people who kind of argue that line. Their point is simply to distinguish between the perception and reality are different. They're not talking about repeated experiences of one, you know, multiple examples of seeing a snake.
And secondly, the value of true knowledge. So, if you were to say, the second time you go back, if the rope was curled up there, you would probably more likely see it as a rope rather than a snake, the second time. OK, they would say that reinforces what we are saying – that right knowledge liberates you. And we're providing the right knowledge. That doesn't bother them.
The real ... what I thought you were going to ask actually was another question. The other question, which is a little more difficult, is to say: OK, you say you thought you saw a snake, but you saw a rope – but what is the reality of the rope? Are you saying the rope actually has reality? What is the reality of the rope? Are you saying there are objective reality. If everything is atman, then even the rope is not really a rope. And so, the whole thing can be pressed down a lot.
But next time we'll look at some analogies that will help clarify actually that point as well.