© 2003 - 2013 Suhotra Maharaja Archives - Vidyagati das
IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
The Muktikopanisad lists the names of 108 Upanisads (see Cd Adi 7. 108p). Of these, Srila Prabhupada states that 11 are considered to be the topmost: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka and Svetasvatara. For the first 10 of these 11, Sankaracarya and Madhvacarya wrote commentaries. Besides these commentaries, in their bhasyas on Vedanta-sutra they have cited passages from Svetasvatara Upanisad, as well as Subala, Kausitaki and Mahanarayana Upanisads. Ramanujacarya commented on the important passages of 9 of the first 10 Upanisads. Because the first 10 received special attention from the 3 great bhasyakaras, they are called Dasopanisad. Along with the 11 listed as topmost by Srila Prabhupada, 3 which Sankara and Madhva quoted in their sutra-bhasyas--Subala, Kausitaki and Mahanarayana Upanisads--are considered more important than the remaining 97 Upanisads. That is because these 14 Upanisads are directly referred to by Srila Vyasadeva himself in Vedanta-sutra.
Thus the 14 Upanisads of Vedanta are: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Svetasvatara, Kausitaki, Subala and Mahanarayana. These 14 belong to various portions of the 4 Vedas--Rg, Yajus, Sama and Atharva. Of the 14, 8 (Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittrirya, Mundaka, Katha, Aitareya, Prasna and Svetasvatara) are employed by Vyasa in sutras that are considered especially important.
In the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana shines as an acarya of vedanta-darsana. Other great Gaudiya acaryas were not met with the need to demonstrate the link between Mahaprabhu's siksa and the Upanisads and Vedanta-sutra. Jiva Gosvami, whom Srila Prabhupada said was the greatest scholar and philosopher in the world, wrote his Sandarbhas to leave no doubt that Srimad-Bhagavatam is the natural commentary on Vedanta; the Gaudiya standpoint was that no other commentary is required. But in the 1700s a doctrinal dispute between the Gaudiyas and the Ramanandi sect at the Jaipur court of Jai Singh II obliged Srila Baladeva to compose the Govinda-bhasya commentary on Vedanta-sutra so as to demonstrate that acintya-bhedabheda-tattva is a bona fide Vaisnava Vedanta doctrine distinct from dvaita, vasistadvaita, suddhadvaita and dvaitadvaita. Baladeva also wrote commentaries on 10 upanisads, like Madhva and Sankara. Unfortunately only his commentary on Isopanisad is extant.
The Upanisads are vedasya-antah, meaning that they express the conclusion of Vedic knowledge. They are to be learned by "sitting close to the spiritual master" (upa-ni-sad). The knowledge of the Upanisads is guha-vidya, secret. The ancient sage Dramida defined upanisad as brahmani upanisanneti upanisat, "that which is deeply immersed in Brahman. "
All the different schools of Vedanta (advaita, suddhadvaita, vasistadvaita, dvaita, dvaitadvaita and acintya-bhedabheda-tattva) agree that the Upanisads cover five topics of instruction:
1. The nature of Brahman
So, starting with topic number 1 we may ask, "What is this word, Brahman?" The Sanskrit word brahma is neutral in gender; it does not mean Brahma, the four-faced rajoguna-avatara of creation whose name has a long second vowel and is masculine in gender. The literal meaning of brahma or Brahman can be found in its root, brih--"growth," "expansion," "evolution," and "development. " Brhanti brhmayati tasmad ucyate para brahma, states Atharvasiras Upanisad: "What is called Brahman grows and causes to grow. " Thus Vedanta-sutra 1. 1. 2. defines Brahman as janmady-asya-yathah, that from which everything originates.
Again, Brahman is a neutral apellation, like the English word "God. " Prasnopanisad says the syllable aum is verily that Brahman:
etad vai satyakama parama ca aparama ca brahma yad aumkarah
That which is the syllable aum, O Satyakama, is verily the parama and aparama Brahman. Therefore, he who meditates attains one or the other through this support alone.
Isopanisad addresses Brahman as Isa, the supreme controller of the universe. Mahanarayana Upanisad declares,
narayana param brahma tattvam narayanah parah
Narayana is the Supreme Brahman. Narayana is the Supreme Reality. Narayana is the Supreme Light. Narayana is the Supreme Self.
Other terms often found in the Upanisads for Brahman are atman, sat, aksara, prana, akasa, jyotis, purusa, isvara and paramesvara.
The Nature of Brahman
Vedantists consider the nature of Brahman in two categories: svarupa (essence) and svarupa-nirupaka dharma (attributes). According to Taittiriya Upanisad, Brahman is satya (real), jnana (knowledge) and ananta (endless). The Upanisads themselves apply these three to both the svarupa and svarupa-nirupaka dharma of Brahman; Mayavadi commentators reserve them only for svarupa, considering the attributes (which include the living entities and the material energy) to be unreal, ignorant and limited, thus having no relationship to Brahman whatsoever.
To illustrate how the Upanisads apply satyam jnanam anantam to both Brahman in essence and Brahman in attribute, Chandogya VIII. 3. 4 states tasya ha va etasya brahmano nama satyamiti, that satyam is a name of Brahman. The next verse explains that satyam is composed of 3 syllables: sat, ti and yam; the first means "immortal," the second means "mortal" and the third means "that which holds the two together" (yamayati). Thus Brahman is that which controls both the conscious living entities and the non-conscious material energy, and brings them together to exhibit the universal creation. About the next feature of Brahman's nature, jnanam (knowledge), Aitreya Upanisad III. 1. 3 states prajnanam brahma, that Brahman is prajnana (great knowledge), and that living entities and non-sentient matter are prajnana pratisthitam, sustained by the prajna that is Brahman. Regarding the endlessness of Brahman (ananta), Isopanisad 5 states, tad antarasya sarvasya tad u sarvasyasya bahyatah, that Brahman is within everything and at the same time outside of everything. Similarly, Katha Upanisad teaches that Brahman is at once smaller than the smallest and greater than the greatest.
All this is consistent with the basic definition of Brahman as that which expands and causes everything else to expand. If Brahman is essentially satyam jnanam anantam, then that which grows from Brahman must share in that nature to some degree. Brahman as the source of expansion is not well-served by the Mayavadi theory that the cosmic manifestation is of a different essence than Brahman, i. e. unreal, ignorant and limited.
To be continued, starting with The Bliss of Brahman.
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Srila Prabhupada in the Early Days
With the permission of Mulaprakrti didi, we are providing a series of short excerpts from a soon-to-be released book composed of over 80 interviews of people who knew Srila Prabhupada before he came to America.
SRILA BHAKTI MADHAVA MAHARAJ (hari-nama from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, diksa from Srila Bhaktisaranga Goswami Maharaja) Staying at Caitanya Math in Vrindavana
During the early 1960ís Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami sometimes stayed alone in Delhi, at Chippiwada Ram Mandir. I was in charge of Indraprastha Gaudiya math in Karolabada. I stayed there for forty years. He came to our temple so many times. Swami Maharaja visited for holy days- Janmastami, his Gurudevaís appearance and disappearance--many special festivals. I remember he would often give the lecture on those occasions. After he had taken sannyasa, Swami Maharaja stayed for some extended time in Delhi. He served as editor for my Gurudeva, Bhakti Saranga Maharajaís Sajana Tosani and also the Gaudiya and Bhagavat Patrikas. He didnít stay in the temple because his bhajan was disturbed there; he stayed alone in Chippiwada and did his own cooking. At that time Narayana Maharaja went there so many times, and Swami Maharaja stayed in Mathura quite often as there was a press in that math.