3 3



moved to the forefront of 21st-century sci- ô ^

Even though consciousness has finally UL

3 U ô 3 5 ô

tive the current methods of inquiry seem ô

ô 3 ô - ô

their study: we are using physical methods to pursue consciousness, and these meth- ods can only reveal physical properties. If, as many believe, there is more to conscious- ness than electrical impulses and chemical interactions within the brain, then current 3

ô ^ ô õ3 S Rô 3 ^ ô revealing the nature of consciousness.”

In the Upanishads The Upanishads, written thou- sands of years ago in the San- skrit language, can serve as new reference texts for this explora- tion, because the nature of real- ity, which includes the study of consciousness, is of vital inter- est to the ancient Indian philo- sophical texts. The Upanishads assert that consciousness is not limited to the physical realm, but rather pervades the physi- ô

L U 3 ô S 3 3 ô K !

ô R õô3 3 3

the case, then a research meth- od that reveals only physical properties will necessarily fail in this quest. The Upanishads are the phil- osophical capstones of the Vedas. Since Veda means “knowledge,” the Upanishads are also traditionally referred to as Vedanta, or the “culmination (

5 ^ ôL S õ U ô 3 ô3K

tic texts. With his help, we explore what the Upanishads teach about consciousness. The interested reader will want to explore beyond this handful of examples. The ö

ó 3S * 1ö ó is among the

more ancient. Its sixth chapter contains a story about the student Svetaketu and his teacher and father, Uddalaka. Svetaketu returns home from his studies at the guru- kula, arrogantly convinced that he knows everything worth knowing. Uddalaka chal- lenges him, “Did you ask about that teaching through which the unheard becomes heard, the unfathomed becomes fathomed, and the unknown becomes known?” Svetaketu,

takes place. The very fact of Existence’s en- R 3

5L GK õ 5 *

tion enough to declare that Existence is also Consciousness (in other Upanishads called L

ô ô5 5K + ô S õ

L 3 3 ^ - S 3 ô 3 I + ô Upa[

nishads already established that Existence is singular, without a second, and beyond quali- ^

perform the action of envisioning? To do so it must be conscious. But being conscious im- plies a quality of Existence, and Existence has already been stated not to have qualities. From this it follows, he concludes, that

Existence does not have consciousness—it simply is Consciousness. How can it be said that these aspects are one and the same entity? If Existence were separate from Conscious- ness, then Consciousness, or the ability to envision, would not exist. And if Consciousness were separate from Existence, then Existence would not have the ability to envision. Thus, according to Shankara, Con- sciousness and Existence must be synonyms for each other. Another text drives home the

identity, the oneness, of Exis- tence, Consciousness and Brah- man: the )

which states, “Brahman is L

S ôõ5ô ) of knowledge (veda).”

These texts inquire into the nature of truth, consciousness and happiness, boldly ques- tioning the commonly held notion of happi- ô33 ô3 õ

It is useful to examine a few instances

where the Upanishads grapple with con- sciousness, both implicitly and explicitly. Through these examples we will attempt to show how the Upanishads address con- sciousness in a broader context, citing its õô^

3 õ ô ô 3 õ 3ô3

knowing it. Before highlighting these teach- ings, we must understand that the Upani[ shads, like many ancient texts, are cryptic. Quoting and translating them directly is not always enough to understand the full mean- ing; we must apply careful reasoning to ex- tract meaning from them. For that reason, numerous scholars have

commented on them over the millennia. We turn for insight to Shankara, one of the most celebrated commentators on the core Vedan-

Sacred knowledge: [ ï J ö ó[Q

ïó ï ( 1

unfamiliar with this instruction, asks his father to reveal it to him. Uddalaka obliges, and commences saying, “In the beginning, all 3

ô ô U S 3 T 3 ô ô ôL U ' ôL

without a second.” Saying “Existence” X1 E here, according to

Shankara, implies a subtle, all-pervasive thing, which is without distinctions, singular, with- out parts, and is Consciousness. This word, 1 , he states, is known from all the Upanishads. In other words, Existence is the primal sub- stance from which the entire universe, made up of names, forms, qualities, actions, space and time, arises. But that is not to say that Ex- istence is separate from creation, for creation 3

3 T 3 ô ô ^ôõ U ô3 õ 3K

Existence must pervade all things that exist, for if it does not, then those things it does not pervade would not exist. It must be without distinctions, for Existence is a binary—there is no range of existence. It can be said to be sin- gular for the same reasons already mentioned, for if there were more than one existence, the question must still be asked, “Do they exist?” If they do, then they are within the realm of a higher, singular Existence. Uddalaka proceeds to explain that 1 , Ex-

istence, envisioned itself as becoming many, and it was this vision from which the uni- verse arose. Here, an interesting discussion

54 hinduism today april/may/june, 2017 ^

As for 1 S , a thing is said to be 1 S , true, when it does not change the nature that is ascertained to be its own; and a thing is said to be unreal when it changes the nature that is ascertained to be its own. Hence, a mutable thing is unreal… So the phrase 1 S

S * 1ö ó, õ

Shankara sheds some light on this terse statement. He writes:


­ ö (Brahman is

truth) distinguishes Brahman from un- real things. From this it may follow that (the un- changing) Brahman is the (material) cause (of all subsequent changes); and since a material cause is a substance, it can be an accessory as well, thereby becoming insentient, like earth. Hence it is said that Brahman is

. Jnana means knowl-

edge, consciousness. The word jnana con- veys the abstract notion of the verb (jna, to know); and being an attribute of Brah- cWd Wbed] m_j^ jhkj^ WdZ _dÑd_jkZ[" _j does not indicate the agent of knowing.

To the rishis, the authors of the Upani[

shads, an “end” or a “theory” was meaning- less without a method of attaining it. So how can Consciousness be known? In answer to this question, the

ïS Upanishad lists the ways in which Consciousness ( ), the all-perceiver, can be perceived; that is, the

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