Tread path of purity, always

As the very foundation of all Indian spiritual thought, the Upanishads occupy a very important place in philosophical studies.

Embodying as they do sublime ideals for the correct understanding of the importance of human birth and the path to be followed to realise the ideals, the Upanishads remain a beacon light not only for Indians, but for all of humankind with the excellences of their form and contents.

Two ideas that dominate the teachings of the Upanishads are – the importance of knowledge of the ultimate reality; and the need for developing detachment. The whole of the Upanishadic doctrine hinges on these two concepts and as Shankaracharya says in his Vivekachudamani, they are the “two wings that are indispensable for the soul to soar unrestricted to its eternal home of freedom and peace.”

The Mundaka Upanishad is one of the ten principal Upanishads which clearly delineates the differences between the higher knowledge of the Supreme reality called Brahman and the lower knowledge of this existential world. It describes this phenomenal world as originating from the supreme Brahman. This Upanishad commences with a moving prayer: “May we hear what is auspicious with our ears, may we see what is auspicious with our eyes, may we, with strong limbs and bodies, lead our lives in worship for the duration allotted to us by the gods. May all the gods bestow prosperity upon us.”

In reply to a question “by knowing what does all that is to be known become known”, the Upanishad declares that there are two kinds of knowledge. The lower knowledge of the various branches of study like grammar, rituals, phonetics, etc, and the higher knowledge of the immutable power. Just as a spider sends forth its threads from its body, just as herbs sprout from the earth, just as hair grows on the human body, from the immutable power originates the Universe, the five primordial elements, food, etc.

Performing our duties in life leads us on the path of good deeds. Not performing our duties is the way to downfall. But mere performance of rituals without faith, penance and non-attachment to material benefits is of no avail. The way to acquire this right knowledge is through an enlightened preceptor. Just as from a blazing fire sparks of similar nature emanate, from the immutable power many kinds of beings issue forth.

Divine and formless, both within and without, without breath and without mind, pure, higher than the highest, self-luminous, subtler than an atom is this immutable power. Gods, celestials, men, beasts, crops, natural phenomena, all are its creations. This same power resides in the cave of the heart and everywhere. The wise ones recognise it and attain immortality. The deluded ones cling to worldly attachments. The Upanishad concludes by declaring that truth alone reigns supreme with a call to tread the path of purity of thought and quelling of desires.

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