Our dharma is like a giant tree adorned with innumerable branches and twigs. Its roots plunge down into the deepest knowledge; its branches spread out
far into the field of action. Like the Ashwattha tree mentioned in the Gita, which has its roots above and its branches below, this dharma is based on knowledge and exhorts one to action. Freedom from attachment is the foundation of this vast tree-mansion, dynamism is its walls and roof, and liberation its tower and summit. The whole life of humanity is sheltered by this immense tree-mansion of the Hindu dharma.
Every one says that the Veda is the basis of the Hindu dharma, but very few know the real form and the fundamental truth of that basis. Often, seated among the topmost branches, we remain lost in ecstasy over the taste of one or more of the savoury and transient fruits, never caring to find out anything about the roots. True, we have heard that the Veda is divided into two sections: the one part dealing with action and the other dealing with knowledge. We may have read the commentaries on the Rigveda by Max Muller or its Bengali translation by Romesh Dutt but we have no acquaintance with the Rigveda itself. We have received the knowledge from Max Muller and Romesh Dutt that the Rishis of the Rigveda worshipped external objects and beings; the incantations and hymns to the Sun, the Moon, the Winds and the Fire constituted the ancient Hindu dharma’s eternal fundamental knowledge above the human. By assuming their view to be true and thus belittling the Veda, the Rishis and the Hindu dharma, we consider ourselves highly learned and ‘enlightened’. We make no effort to find out what is truly there in the authentic Veda or why the sages and great souls like Shankaracharya and others revered these eternal invocations and hymns as the complete and infallible Knowledge.
Few people are acquainted with even the Upanishads. When we speak of the Upanishads, we are reminded of the Monism of Shankaracharya, the Qualified Dualism of Ramanuja, the Dualism of Madhwa and similar philosophical expositions. We do not even dream of studying the Upanishads in the original, or finding out their true significance, or asking ourselves how six schools of contradictory philosophies could have grown from the same root, or whether any hidden meaning surpassing those six philosophies could be obtained from this treasure-house of knowledge. For a thousand years we have accepted the meaning given by Shankara; the commentary of Shankara has become our Veda, our Upanishad. Why should we take the trouble of studying the Upanishads in the original? Even when we do so, if ever we come across any commentary which contradicts Shankara, we immediately reject it as false. Yet not only the knowledge gained by Shankara but the spiritual knowledge or truth which has been acquired in the past or will be in the present and the future has been concealed in these profound and significant ślokas by the Aryan Rishis and the great Yogis.
What are the Upanishads? They are the treasure-house of the deepest eternal Knowledge without beginning or end which is the root and foundation of the eternal dharma. We find the same knowledge in the Suktas of the four Vedas but covered over with metaphors which give an exoteric meaning to the hymns like that of the descriptive image of the ideal man. The Upanishads unveil for us the supreme Knowledge, the naked limbs of the real man. The poets of the Rigveda, the Rishis, expressed spiritual knowledge in divinely inspired words and rhythms; the Rishis of the Upanishads had direct vision of the true form of that Knowledge and expressed it in a few profound words. Not only Monism, but all the philosophical thoughts and doctrines that have come into being in Europe and Asia — Rationalism, Realism, Nihilism, the Darwinian theory of evolution, the Positivism of Comte, the philosophy of Hegel, Kant, Spinoza and Schopenhauer, Utilitarianism, Hedonism, all were seen and expressed by the Rishis endowed with the direct vision. But what has been elsewhere partially glimpsed, proclaimed as the integral truth — in spite of its being only a fragment of the Truth — and given a distorted description with a mixture of truth and falsehood, has been recorded in its fullness and right perspective, in a pure and unmistakable manner.
Therefore we should endeavour to find the true deep meaning of the Upanishads without being bound by the exposition of Shankara or anyone else.
The word ‘Upanishad’ means to enter into a secret place. The Rishis did not obtain the knowledge mentioned in the Upanishads by force of argument, extensive learning or from the flow of inspiration, but earned by Yoga the right of entry into the secrecy of the mind where hangs the key to the integral Knowledge, penetrated into the hidden chamber, took down the key and became sovereigns of vast realms of that infallible Knowledge. Unless the key can be secured, it is not possible to have access to the true significance of the Upanishads. Any attempt to discover the meaning of the Upanishads by argument alone is equivalent to investigating a dense forest with a lighted candle from high treetops. Direct vision is the sun-light which illumines the entire forest making it visible to the seeker. Direct vision can be attained only by Yoga.
(Dharma, No. 15, December, 1909)