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Upanishadic Sadhana

by Swami Sivananda

The Upanishads constitute the central basis of Hindu Religion and Philosophy. They are the Vedanta or the end of the Vedas, the culmination of Knowledge. Nothing can be a match to the wonderous suggestiveness of the Upanishads. They have satisfied the greatest thinkers of the world and they have pacified the greatest of spiritual men here. Nothing that went before or after has been able to surpass the Upanishads in the depth of Wisdom and the message of Satisfaction and Peace. Dadhyanch, Uddalaka, Sanatkumara, Sandilya and Yajnavalkya are some of the outstanding philosophers and sages of the Upanishads who have lit up the torch to the path of Perfection. The Upanishads mainly preach Knowledge through philosophising. They are the textbook, for the seekers after the Self. They are styled by different names: Brahma Vidya, Adhyatmasastra, Vedanta, Jnana. One who practises the teachings of the Upanishads attains to the Supreme. He breaks the knot of the heart, clears all doubts and destroys all sins. He enters into the All. He is liberated from embodiment. He becomes immortal. He becomes the Self of all. He is an Apta Kama. He is really blessed. He crosses over sorrow. He crosses over sin. He does not return to the mortal coil. He exists as the Absolute.

The Upanishads are a book of Spiritual Knowledge. The Supreme is pervading all that appears here. One should therefore really enjoy by renouncing the sense of worldliness. He has no reason to covet other's property.

Life is not a misery. One should live for hundred years by performing action without attachment. Life is not a bondage when it is looked with the proper light. Such a man of proper knowledge looks on all beings as his own Self and his Self as all beings. To him everything is his own Self, and he is not affected by grief, delusion or sorrow of any kind.

The Supreme Reality is indescribable. It is beyond the reach of the mind and the senses. It is beyond even the intellect. It is the light of all else, nothing is a light to It. Speech cannot express It. Mind cannot think It. Intellect cannot understand It. Senses cannot perceive It. Such a wonderful Being is the Truth. Brahma-Jnana is not a knowledge of something but becoming Absolute Knowledge itself. It is the Infinite subject if speech can be permitted to express like that. It is an experience and not a perception. It is Absoluteness and is, therefore, beyond the conception of duality and pairs of opposites. The greatest blessedness is to know That, and he is an unfortunate man who dies without the knowledge of It.

Mortal things are ephemeral and so are not worth pursuing. Even a whole life of many years is only very slight. It is nothing. There is no use of enjoying object. Man is not satisfied with wealth. He craves to become immortal even against his own conscience. Unfortunately he pursues after the pleasant as against the really good. The good is one thing and the pleasant another. The one liberates and the other binds. One should not catch the pleasant though it is tempting for a moment.
The Atman is not born, nor does It die. It has not come from anywhere and it has not become anything. Unborn, constant, eternal, primeval, this one is not slain when the body is slain. This Atman is hidden in the deep core of the heart of beings. It cannot be attained by any amount of reasoning, study or instruction. It comes only through the Supreme Grace. A man of bad conduct, who has not ceased from crookedness, cannot hope to attain the Atman.

The road to the Supreme is clothed with pricking thorns. It is sharp like the edge of a razor, hard to tread, a very difficult path! It can be trodden only with the help of knowledge obtained from men of wisdom. Knowing That, one is liberated from the terrible mouth of death.
The mind and the senses always run outwards. Only the man of self-discipline and perseverance can gaze inward and experience the state of Atman as it really is. The childish who have no knowledge of the Truth, run after external pleasures and they fall into the net of widespread Death. Only the wise, knowing the state of Immortality, seek not the stable Brahman among things which are impermanent here.

One need not be anxious to possess things of the world. Whatever is here, that is there; whatever is there, that is here. He obtains death after death who perceives diversity in the world. There is nothing as 'many' here actually. The One Supreme Substance appears as many things, clothed in different names, forms and actions.
The Atman or the Brahman has no connection with the world of change. As the sun is not sullied by the faults of the eyes, the Antaratman is not sullied by the defects of the world. As one fire has entered the world and becomes corresponding in form to every form, so the One Antaratman of all things is corresponding in form to every form, and yet is outside all these.

The goodness, the light, the pleasure and the beauty of the world is not to be found there even in name. Even the splendour of the Sun and the grandeur of the creator is superseded by the Absolute. That State is experienced when the senses cease to work together with the mind and when the intellect does not move, and when there is mere consciousness. When all desires which are lodged in the heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes Immortal. Herein he attains Brahman.
The State of becoming the Absolute is not a loss of all that we love, but is the perfect fulfilment of all our aspirations. Our finitude is broken, imperfections destroyed and we are installed in the blessed State of Eternal Satisfaction. All our desires are fulfilled at one and the same time. We become the Source of Infinite Joy and Bliss. We experience birthlessness and deathlessness. None is superior to us.

What is that by knowing which everything else becomes known? That is Brahman. That is to be known. Brahman is Truth, Knowledge, Infinity, Bliss. Brahman is Bhuma where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else and understands nothing else. It rests on nothing else. On It everything else rests. One who knows this rejoices in his own Self and rests contented in his own Self.

Sacrifices cannot bring salvation. They are mere temptations which bind one to birth and death. The deluded people think that mere sacrifice and charity constitute eternal blessedness. They are mistaken. What is not the effect of action is not attained by any amount of action. Brahman which is not done cannot be attained by what is done. Having scrutinised the nature of the world, a wise man should arrive at indifference and dispassion. He must approach a preceptor and learn Brahma-Vidya from him. Such a fortunate soul rends asunder the knot of ignorance.

There is no other duty for man except meditation on the Self. Dismissing all else, one should establish himself in the Self. There remains nothing to be done or attained, when the Self is experienced. For that Brahman, the Immortal is before, behind, to right and to left, stretched forth below and above. Brahman is all this, the great, the widest extent. There is nothing but Brahman. All this is Brahman.

Truth alone triumphs, never untruth. Falsehood and lie, phantom or unreality cannot succeed in its efforts. The real alone is an enduring being. That Real is experienced through Meditation coupled with Knowledge.

Whatever a man of purified nature makes clear in his mind, and whatever desires he desires, that he gets and that he fulfils. Therefore one should have pure and perfect resolves. He that desires for objects is born again and again for fulfilling those desires. He whose desires are satisfied, who is perfected, his desires vanish away here itself.
The state of Moksha or Final Liberation is a very glorious one. Those blessed souls who attain that State enter into everything. They become the All. They are free from passion, are tranquil and perfect in the highest sense. They are liberated beyond death. They become unified with the Supreme Imperishable. As the flowing rivers in the ocean disappear, leaving name and form, so the wise man being liberated from name and form reaches the Supreme which is Absolute. One who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. He crosses over sorrow and death. He becomes Immortal.

The Supreme Self is experienced in the fourth state of consciousness. There it is neither this nor that; it has no quality in particular. It is everything. It is peaceful, blessed and non-dual. It is the cessation of all phenomena. That is the Atman. That should be known and realised. That is the purpose in life.

The Jivanmukta or the liberated sage experiences that he is everything. He is the tree and the mountain. He is excellent like the sun. He is a shining treasure, wise, immortal and indestructible. He is the food and the eater of food. He is the knower, knowledge and the known in one. He is the whole universe in himself.

Bliss is the Ultimate Nature of the Reality. From Bliss all this comes forth. By Bliss all this lives. Into Bliss all this enters in the end. The Bliss of all the fourteen worlds is nothing when compared to the Bliss of Brahman. All Bliss of the world is only a shadow of Self-Bliss. Self-Bliss is the most Supreme. It is the Only Real Bliss. Other sources of bliss are mere fleeting phantoms; other bliss is only a feeble apology for the Supreme Self-Bliss. The greatest bliss which one can conceive of either in earth or in heaven is a mere naught in the presence of the pure Brahman-Bliss or Self-Bliss. One has not got to run to external objects for obtaining bliss. The Self is the source of all bliss. The Self is everything, all knowledge and all bliss.

All this is guided by Consciousness, and is based on Consciousness. The world has Consciousness for its guidance. Consciousness is Brahman. I am Brahman. That thou art. This Self is Brahman. These are the metaphysical explanations of Brahman. All this is Brahman is the ultimate realisation. One who knows this is not reborn on earth. He becomes immortal.

Just as by one piece of clay, everything made of clay is known; just as by one nugget of gold, everything made of gold is known; just as by a single pair of nail-scissors, everything made of iron is known, all modification is merely a distinction of words, a mere name, the reality is just only clay, gold or iron, so is this Supreme Teaching; the world is only Brahman, by knowing Brahman everything else is known.

Existence alone was in the beginning. This was one alone without a second. From that everything else was produced. The modifications of it are only apparent. There is no world except mere names and forms, mysteriously connected with one another. There is no sun or moon except mere colours or fictitious forms. When colours are distinguished, the sun loses his sunhood, the moon loses its moonhood, things lose their thingness. Brahman alone exists.
One who is guided by a preceptor knows the truth easily. Otherwise he may miss the path in spiritual blindness. The preceptor teaches: That which is the finest Essence this whole world has that as its soul. That is the Reality. That is the Atman. That thou art.

The Infinite Fullness (Plenum) alone is Bliss. There is no Bliss in the small finite things. Only the Infinite is Bliss. There one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else that is the Infinite Fullness. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else that is the small finite. The Infinite Fullness is the Immortal, and the small finite is mortal. That Infinite Fullness alone is everywhere. It is all this.

In purity of food, there is purity of nature. In purity of nature, there is established memory. In established memory, there results the release from all knots of the heart. One becomes Immortal.

The Self alone is dear. One who loves something other than the Self loses what he loves. The Self is the Absolute. One who knows this becomes indestructible. He is only a beast who considers he and his God are different. Not for the sake of this all this is dear, but for the sake of the Self this all is dear. By knowing that Self, everything else becomes automatically known, for the Self indeed is this all.

The Self is an Ocean without a shore and a surface. It is mere Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. Where there is duality as it were, one can speak to the other, see the other and understand the other, but where everything is just one's own Self, then who can speak to whom, who can see whom, who can understand whom? That is the supreme end. That is the supreme blessing. That is the supreme Bliss. On a part of this Bliss other creatures are living.
He who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose desire is the Self his Pranas do not depart. He being Brahman Itself, becomes Brahman immediately.

The Jivanmukta is like a child. He is a source of all knowledge, but he behaves like an idiot. He is a true Brahmana who has known Brahman.

He who dwells in all things. and yet is other than all things, whom all things know not, in whose body are all things, who controls all things from within He is the Soul, the Inner Controller, the Immortal. He is the unseen Seer, the unheard Hearer, the unthought Thinker, the nonunderstood Understander. Other than He there is nothing whatsoever at any time. One who dies without knowing this Supreme has died in vain, he is a wretched man. He is a great man who dies knowing the Supreme, he is a true Brahmana.
Verily, that great, unborn Soul, undecaying, undying, Immortal, fearless, is Brahman. Brahman is fearless. One who attains this becomes the fearless Brahman. That is full. This is full. From the Full, the full does proceed. Withdrawing the full from the Full, the Full alone still remains. This is the gist of the Upanishads in whole.

The Sadhana of the Upanishads is mainly of the type of the analogy of Bhramara-Kita-Nyaya. Meditation on the Truths declared in the Upanishads is Sadhana. They are of a very highly advanced nature, and only advanced students can take up this method of Sadhana. The name of this method of Sadhana is Jnana-Yoga. It is an intellectual analysis for the sake of perfection in Intuition. The Jnana Yogi starts his Sadhana directly from the Vijnana or the intellect. He is not guided by emotions, not by the regulations of Prana and the like. He stills all emotions and centres his mind in the Supreme Self. He attains Sadyo-Mukti or Immediate Salvation. He enters into everything and becomes the Self of everything. This is the end of ideal of human life.

The Message of the Upanishads

Human Quest

Happiness! The one ceaseless quest in which man is engaged is happiness. He thinks, speaks, moves, works, eats, drinks, procreates, in short, lives in the hope of finding happiness. No one wants to suffer.

It is the desire to escape suffering that drives a baby to its mother's lap; it is the same desire that draws urchins together and makes them play with their dolls and revel in sweetmeats; it is this desire to find joy that goads a youth on to the pleasure-centres of woman, food, intoxicating drinks, gambling play; it is this quest of happiness that drives man to seek wealth, power, name and fame, and material comforts; it is this desire that impels him to invent newer and newer contrivances to add to his creature-comforts, and weapons to add to his glory, power and wealth! Alas! Happiness eludes his grasp!

Frankenstein's Monster

What does he get, instead? Every type of sense-enjoyment has hidden beneath the velvety cover, a ferocious tigress! Lust eats away his vitals. Intoxicating drinks bring on nervousness. Artificial ways of living give him any number of diseases. Desires haunt his dreams. Ambitions cloud his intelligence. Wealth brings with it restlessness. Family means worry! The senses to which he looked for happiness enslave him and under their crushing weight, man cries aloud: Where is happiness?
Even if he is saved from these, even if fortune smiles at him, the inevitable Old Age creeps in. The pleasure-centres which sustained him during his youth and manhood, haunt him now! Crest-fallen, he wails: Where is happiness?

Ah! Thou, the Great Leveller Death! No one has escaped thy clutches. The king on his throne, the poet in his study, the painter in his studio, the vile immoral man in the arms of his beloved, the glutton at the table, the gambler at the den, the merry-maker at the club thy mantle falls equally on all! Every day millions of human beings leave their mortal coil on this planet: yet the few that remain imagine they will never die madness cannot go farther. Name, fame, friends, relations, wealth, power, position nothing follows the man beyond his last breath. His hands feel not, his eyes look not his ears hear not, his tongue tastes not, his nose smells not, the objects which were dear to his heart just few moments ago! Where is happiness?
Wealth breeds dacoits. Name and fame creates enemies. Power and ambitions result in wars and riots. Selfishness brings on famines and internal revolts. Where, then, is happiness?

That question has remained unanswered!

Bhuma Alone is Bliss

True happiness can be had only in the Bhuma, the Infinite. There is no pleasure in the finite Infinite is Immortal, Eternal. Finite is perishable transitory. That happiness which will be perennial, of which we cannot be deprived, which will not lead us to, or give room for, a tinge of misery in other words Bliss Absolute that is true happiness! That is the happiness worth longing for. That is Bhuma. That state in which one sees no other, one hears no other, one feels no other, one thinks of no other etc. ,that is Bhuma! Unity or Oneness is Bhuma. Diversity is finite.

Atman Everywhere

One who has had this transcendental experience, sees the Atman and Atman alone everywhere, within him and without him, too. The Atman is all-pervading homogeneous essence. The entire Universe is one mass of consciousness. All beings, the entire humanity, plant life, animal kingdom and even what is commonly known as inanimate objects have their root in Consciousness. That is the Atman! Bhuma is the direct subjective experience of this Infinite. Bliss true, eternal, infinite happiness can be had only in this perception of Unity.

I am Fearless

One who sees His own Atman in all beings, and all beings in his own Atman he becomes fearless. He is not deluded by the objects of the senses. Sorrow melts away before his sunny gaze of bliss. He is not afraid of anything; nor is any one afraid of him. Bliss fills his very being. And, this bliss is infectious every one who comes into contact with him is injected with this bliss. Not only has he no enemies in the universe, but even avowed foes, give up their enmity in his presence! He is not particularly attached to any object or being. His heart flows out to one and all animate and inanimate. He perceives Unity in diversity.

Time and space bow before him and withdraw. He lives in the one Great Present. There is neither a past nor a future for him. There is neither a 'here' nor a 'there'. Before his inner eye is laid out the grand panorama of the three periods of time a Cosmic Vision. He sees nothing but Pure Consciousness.

In the crying babe, playing boy, fiery youth, puzzled man, and in the disillusioned old man he perceives the same Atman. The apparent change does not belong to the Atman. Nay, even death is not the end. It is but another apparent change. Life continues beyond. Man sleeps with one encasement and wakes up after a short while with another encasement! Death has lost its dread for him! He has achieved the impossible he has eluded the grasp of Death itself!

I am Bliss

He has acquired the knowledge of the Atman. He has negated the false notion that happiness comes out of sense-objects; the wrong identification of the Unborn Atman with the body and mind vanishes.He has got That obtaining which man desires nothing more! He is absolutely desireless, for there is nothing to be got by him! He is full of the ineffable Bliss which comes out of the realisation of the Self.

Look Within!

The senses have been created with a natural tendency to flow out towards the objective universe. This externalisation dissipates the rays of the mind, weakens the intellect and blinds the eye of intuitive perception. Unity is falsely represented as diversity; the untrue appears to be True; pain appears to be pleasure; and shadow holds out greater charms than the Substance Itself. This is the path of 'Preya' (the Pleasant) which the dullwitted ignorant man pursues.

A rare hero, however, desirous of perceiving the Inner Atman, turns his gaze within himself. He withdraws the rays of his mind: the senses are drawn m as the limbs of a tortoise are drawn into the shell. The mental modifications are stopped. Buddhi is made to surrender itself at the feet of the Atman. Ego is emptied, so that his entire being might be filled by the Light of the Self! This is the path of 'Sreya' which the wise one pursues.

Within is the resplendent Atman shining with the luminosity of crores of suns. The sun, the moon, the stars and everything that is endowed with the light here shines with the brilliance borrowed from this Atman. The seer perceives that the senses have no independent power of their own. The Atman is the eye of the eyes, the ear of the ears, the mind of minds the Inner Self! Pleasure lay not in the objects nor in the senses: but it was within one's own Self, attributed by mistake to the objects!
Not indeed for the sake of all this is everything dear, but it is for the love of one's own Atman are all the worlds dear! This Atman should be perceived; one should hear about this Atman; one should think of, and meditate upon this Inner Atman! For in That lies Bliss.

To him who thus realises that His Atman is the All-pervading Essence of all that is here, belongs Eternal Blissto none else! He has found the source of perennial bliss, in his own Inner Self. Eternal Bliss within and he has been wasting his life in vainly searching for it in the external world! He is no wiser than the musk-deer which wanders about and exhausts its energies in an endeavour to locate the source of the scent, which is all the time within itself! Therefore, one who wishes to taste the nectar of immortality should

Turn the gaze, draw the Indriyas,
Still the mind, sharpen the intellect,
Chant OM with feeling, meditate on Atman!

He perceives the Atman within himself. He perceives everything within himself! He realises that the Atman pervades the entire Universe, envelopes it as it were. Though the Atman is One in truth It has put on this form of diversity! The Atman is unaffected by the conditions of the objects, as indeed the sun which shines as the very eye of the whole world is not affected by the defects of the objects.

The Atman is Akarta, non-doer; It is Abhokta, non-enjoyer! Realisation of this Truth enables man to transcend Samsara or the cycle of births and deaths. The sage who realises this Truth enjoys eternal felicity, none else. Immortality and Eternal Bliss are his!


This Atmic knowledge is not obtained through much learning, by frequent hearing of the scriptures nor by a sharp intellect. The Atman reveals Itself to one whom It chooses! Without His Grace, man will not be able to lift a finger! Complete self-surrender to the Lord within the inner chambers of the heart is needed. All Sadhanas aim at the achievement of this one result, annihilation of the ego. So long as the ego holds its head aloft, no progress is possible in Sadhana. God-realisation or Self-realisation is impossible till the least trace of this ego is completely removed. Lord Krishna's Full Flute is considered symbolic of this Truth: empty thyself, I will fill thee!
When the ego is destroyed, the void created thus is soon filled by the Lord's Grace which flows in abundance. By the recipient of the Lord''s Grace alone is this Atman realised. That is the emphatic declaration of the Upanishads.

The Paths

Performance of the duties enjoined by the Scriptures on man in the various stages of his life here and that with the proper perspective, with the full knowledge of the transcendental nature of the Atman, is considered one of the paths for the attainment of the Atman. Great emphasis is again laid on truth, performance of austerities, true knowledge and Brahmacharya. Renunciation held a high place, too.
It is clear from the above that the Upanishads sought to aim at the synthetic development of the Yogi. Jnana is the culmination. No liberation is possible without Wisdom. Vairagya is of paramount importance. Renunciation is necessary; but inner renunciation born out of true knowledge that the Atman is Akarta and Abhokta, and that it is not affected by the actions of the sense-organs, is considered preferable to external renunciation of physical actions. Man should perform his duties, in the proper spirit. Such actions do not bind him: but on the other hand they help him to liberate himself. Devotion to the Self and the invocation of its Grace is also a sine qua non for the achievement of success in the Path.


It is in the light of the above that the four Ashramas of life assume a marked importance.
During the period his life with his Guru, the Brahmachari acquires a knowledge of the Scriptures and a theoretical knowledge of the Supreme, too He learns to discipline himself, to curb his lower passions, to develop the sterling virtues of humility, obedience, adaptability, tranquillity, perseverance, etc. Grihasthashrama was not, in days of yore, meant to be made an excuse for letting loose the diabolical forces within the youth which had perforce to be suppressed during his Gurukulavasa. The advice which the Brahmachari receives at the conclusion of his period of study under the Guru is such as to enable him to translate the theoretical knowledge he had thus far acquired into actual practice. Speak the truth. Do your duty. Never swerve from the study of the Vedas. Do not cut off the thread of offspring after giving the preceptor the fee he desire. . .

Never neglect your welfare, prosperity and study and teaching of the Vedas. Attend to your duties to gods and manes. May the mother be your God. May the father be your God. May the preceptor be your God. May the guest be your God. Do such actions as are free from blemish. Only good actions should be performed. . .

Charity should be performed with faith, modesty and in plenty. . .

Golden words of good counsel these! It need hardly be pointed out how most of the ills the world is suffering from today have their root in the negligence by the householders of these duties.

When his mind has been purified by the proper performance of right actions, and in the fullness of time, a man renounces Grihasthashrama and resorts to the forest, practises Tapasya there, meditates and realises the Atman! What an easy ladder, every rung smooth and pleasant, had our ancients made for us!

The division of the community into four Varnas had a deep significance. The Brahmins spent their times in mastering the Vedas and Sastras; they engaged themselves in preaching Dharma; they meditated and actually lived the truth 'All this is the Self alone!'

The Kshatriyas ruled the kingdom, maintained law and order, preserved the peace of the nation, protected their subjects and devoted themselves to the welfare of the Brahmins through whose contact and grace the Kshatriyas endeavoured to live in the truth 'All this is the Self!'The Vaisyas and the Sudras were heart and soul on the service of the community striving every moment to realise 'All this is the Self!'

A Panacea for All Ills

When humanity started drifting away from the path of righteousness, set in the degeneration of mankind. Man forgot his essential divine nature. The chimney of his Antahkarana, within which shone the resplendent Atman, acquired such a thick layer of the soot of selfish pursuit of material pleasures that a vision of the light was made utterly impossible. Darkness enveloped the earth. The baser passions that revelled in such darkness got the upper hand. Their free play has had consequences of which we are all too well aware today! Wars, riots, famines, hatred, ill-will, suspicion, jealousy, in fact, all the evils that even ever existed on the face of the earth came to dwell in it, all at the same time!

O Man! Beware, Arise, Awake! Resort to the Lotus Feet of saints and seers. By serving them with humility, faith and devotion, acquire the knowledge of the Atman. That and that alone is the panacea for all the ills from which the world is suffering today. Only the direct perception of the Atman within the heart and the realisation that the same Atman resided in the heart of every being in the universe can forge permanent bonds of brotherhood between man and man. This and this alone can put a sure end once and for all to wars, riots famines and other calamities which periodically reduce the world to a menagerie of wild beasts.

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