One of the reasons many people do not show much interest in the 'spiritual' dimension of yoga and related philosophies is because it is made extremely academic and hence difficult. Further there are no peers. One becomes a lawyer, politician, a medical practitioner, builder or even an asana teacher
as we have many examples or peers one can follow. But many spiritual peers do not explain their experiences and even if they explain it is not easily understood due to the lack of empathy and practice. So even as the vedas and several old darsana (philosophical) systems like the yogasutras are replete with spiritual instructions they are not accessible to ordinary people. Even intellectuals are frustrated with these ancient works and tend to dismiss them as highly speculative, So some of the old rishis and authors chose to explain these in the form of narratives, stories, episodes. All the puranas and the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata endeavour to explain these intricate atma vidyas or study of the self or 'subject' through captivating stories. I remember during my early schooling we had a book full of stories and at the end of each story will be a short statement saying “the moral of the story is.....”
Some of the upanishad stories are very apt and arresting. Here is one constructed based on an episode in Brihdaranyaka Upanishad from Shukla Yajurveda. Yagnyavalkya was a great scholar, seer and is credited with bringing the entire shukla yajur veda from the Sun itself. His sharp intellect gave him an extraordinary capacity to discern great philosophical truths including Brahman the ultimate reality according to the upanishads. He was revered by all-- even feared by pundits. After a very successful life during which time he not only explained the great truths succinctly, he also accumulated considerable wealth, cattle heads and landed property. He had two wives one Maitreyi and the other Gargi. Suddenly one day he called both his wives and told them that he had decided to settle the property equally between them and that he himself would leave home for solitude in the forests. Gargi always obedient and would act as per her husband’s wishes agreed without a question. However, Maitreyi would not agree right away, She told him that she wanted some more information. "You, my dear, are giving up twice as much as I am going to get which is half of your belongings. You are not an ordinary person. Even an ordinary mind can understand that what you are going for must be much more valuable than what you are giving up, the vast estate. Yagnyavalkya smiled and agreed with her. I have been studying and talking about it, the Atman/ Brahman and want to directly see and experience who I am, that Atman/Brahman. It is not an abstract idea. See if you can empathize with it.
The husband is dear to the wife not for the sake of the husband but for the sake of the wife herself. Likewise the wife is dear to the husband not for the sake of the lady but for the sake of the gentleman. All things that we love and that are dear to us are dear to us because they give us happiness and we love them because basically we love ourselves first and foremost. Everyone loves oneself most. This intrinsic love for oneself develops into love for the spouse, for the family, for the belongings, for the community and even for the world. So the logical question everyone should ask oneself is “Who am I whom I love so much?” This inquiry led many philosophers to slowly and step by step understand the true nature of the Self. So the goal of life is to understand the nature of one-Self. How does one do it? By first listening to the dissertations by the various upanishads (shravana) then contemplate upon those teachings with a focused mind (manana) and finally settle in the correct knowledge of the self which is Atman/Brahman. Then Yagnyavalkya explains to his wife about the nature of the real self as opposed to the physical being that is erroneously considered as the Self. Convinced, Maitreyi gives her share to Gargi and leaves home for solitude and contemplation on the Self. This particular approach of leading the disciple from the known to the unknown is resorted to by many upanishads
There is another interesting episode in KaThopanishad. A young boy Nachiketas saw his father performing a sacrifice ritual in which one is expected to give away in charity possessions that one considers very dear and valuable. The father was seen giving away cattle that have stopped eating grass, drinking water or giving milk. They were old and the giftee can get nothing out of it. Nachketas realized that what his father was doing was bordering on dishonesty and that this karma will not lead him to heaven as he would have hoped. So he jumped in and asked his father “To whom are you going to give me away as a gift, as he knew that he was very dear to his father. The father kept quiet, and Nachiketas asked him again and found his father saying nothing. And when he asked the same question a third time the angry father blurted out “To Yama”. And as we know Yama is the god of death. The boy without telling a word to his father left for the world of Yama. He went to yamaloka and stayed outside the abode of Yama, the story goes, for three full days without water food or rest. Yama was away from his abode at that time and there was no one else in that world of death (Who would be there in the world of death?) Then arrived Yama and profusely apologized to Nachiketas for not attending to a spiritual guest like Nachiketas. He then offered Nachiketas three wishes(boons). Nachiketas requested that his father's anger with Nachiketas should be cooled down and that the father should accept Nachiketas with the same love and affection he had for Nachiketas before this incident. For the second wish he asked Yama to teach him the fire ritual that would lead one to heaven. The complicated procedure was taught by Yama and Nachiketas absorbed all the instructions and did it himself to the complete satisfaction of Yama. Immensely pleased Yama said that the rite would henceforth be known after Nachiketas and would be called Nachiketas yagnya. For the the third wish Nachiketas as led a simple question. Is there life after death? Some say that there is no future life whereas some philosophies like the Eastern ones say that there is life after death. There is no way of knowing it for sure except from Yama the god of death himself. Very reluctant to discuss that query, Yama is said to have offered many more goodies but the boy was steadfast and insisted that Yama should impart the correct knowledge. Yama then gives the unique instructions to Nachiketas. That is a beautiful story
( I am teaching the complete KaTopanishad at Chicago Yoga center on Sept 16 2016 in Chicago. Here is the link ) http://www.yogamind.com/workshop-ramaswami-upanishad_2016.shtml
Bhrigu is a highly venerated Vedic sage (rshi). One of the important vedic mantras are the seven vyahritis which also forms the first part of the pranayama mantra. Bhrigu is mentioned as one of the 7 sages associated with the 7 vyahritis. Every time one does mantra pranayama the name of bhrugu is mentioned with the nyasa. In the famous pratasmarana (morning prayer) Bhrugu's name is the first of 12 sages who are remembered for good morning/day. There is a story of how he attained brahma gnana or the realization of the Brahman the ultimate reality as per the upanishads. Bhrugu as a young boy heard about 'Brahman' and approached his father his first spiritual guru to teach him about Brahman. Brahman according to Taittiriya upanishad, is consciousness which is real and unbounded. In effect it would mean consciousness (gnana) unaffected by time (satya) and space (ananta), which would imply that it is immortal (satyam gnanam anantam Brahma) This definition of Brahma is known as svarupa lakshana of definition of Brahman. Bhrugu approached his father to teach him how to realize that. The father Varuna, whom some relate to the god of rain, asked his son to contemplate on That from which everything is born and by which everything is sustained and into which everything ultimately merges. This definition is known as tatasta lakshna or path showing definition of Brahman. If one follows this path one would be able to realize Brahman. In five steps Bhrugu by his own contemplation and egged on by his father at each stage realizes the nature of Brahman and is ecstatic. So this Bhrugurvalli of Taiittiriya upanishad in the form of a narrative leads the aspirant to reach the goal surely with baby steps.
Then there is this famous episode of Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka. Uddalaka wanted his son to be a wise spiritual person so at the age of twelve sent him to a famous teacher for studies. Svetaketu spends 12 long years in school. After commencement (samavartana) he returns home proud with his scholarship. The father while happy with his son's accomplishments was upset at the conceit of his son, asked him a simple question, if he knew That, knowing which everything becomes known. Stumped at this curved ball from his father Svetakaetu first blames his teacher for not teaching about it but immediately realizes his mistake and pleads with his father to teach him That. Then in an interesting discourse Uddalaka teacher his son about Brahman and reveals that “You are That” or 'tat tvam asi' one of the four great sayings of the upanishad
Here is one more. A king became an emperor by doing Aswamedha yaga or Horse Sacrifice. Then he went on to do 100 of them and accumulated huge punya which led him to go to heaven and also become the head of the gods "Devendra" by replacing the incumbent Indra. Soon enough the highly rajasic new Indra wanted to completely remodel the entire heaven. He called Viswakarma the celestial architect to make many drastic changes. He asked him to design and build new arches and towers at the four entrances of heaven and called the towers "Triumph Towers". Viswakarma worked feverishly and finally broke down. He sat under a tree and was feeling sorry for himself having to work under such a boss. At that time a sage was walking by and took pity on the great architect and asked him to share with the sage his problems. Viswakarma narrated his woes and the sage asked him to remain quiet and that he would go and talk to the new Indra. He approached the new Indra and asked him how he was doing. Indra started narrating all the various heavenly projects he had undertaken. The sage cut him short and pointed his finger to a corner of the heavenly palace. There through a small crevice an army or column of ants could be seen marching . The sage pointed it to the King of gods. Indra became furious and sent for the harassed Viswakarma. As soon as Viswakarma came and before Indra could castigate him, the sage asked "Oh Indra, do you not know who these ants are?". No I am not interested, I want Viswakarma to immediately close all the crevices in all the heavenly buildings. The sage said "My dear friend you should know that these ants were all Indras in their previous births. And having exhausted their punyas they are continuing to take new birth like this to work out their karmas. This position that you occupy may last a while but it is temporary. So you must think of what you should do to transcend this repeated cycles of birth and death
There are several other stories in the upanishads, the goal of which is to teach the reader about Brahman the ultimate reality. Once I asked my guru why there were so many upanishad and so many upanishad vidyas to teach one principle, the Brahman. He said that different disciples were taught differently by different teachers all over the vedic world taking into account the stage in which the aspirant was. Some of the outstanding ones were included in these classic upanishads.
Note: See below for some Upanishad translation suggestions
I completed the 15 day 100 hr Vinyasakrama Yoga TT program at Loyola Marymount University. Again I had the good fortune of having an excellent group of participants. It is a pleasure to teach at LMU. There were a few others who participated in 60 hr Vinyasakrama Asana program a major component and also for the 20 hr Yoga Sutra and 20 hr Pranayama and Yoga for Internal organs segment. A very lively group indeed.
I spent four days with Sriram in Germany teaching different aspects of Krishnamacharya's teachings. We ended the program with Sriram and me chanting Arunam with many of the 100 plus participants doing 32 times the 12 vinyasas suryanamaskara. The whole process took abut 2 hrs.
Then on 30th August I started a 5 day 25 hr core vinyasakrama Asana program at Hatha Vinyasa Parampara Yoga Schule Mainz in Germany. The program will conclude on Sep 3rd 2016. It has participants from several countries in Europe.
In September I will be teaching the 100 hr Vinyasakrama program at Yogadhara in Madrid Spain. This will be the fifth time I will be teaching this program within a year of offering this program. I have taught this program already in Chennai and New Delhi in India and then in Saskatoon, Canada and at LMU in Los Angeles. It is being organized by Blanca San Roman of Dhara Yoga in Madrid, Spain. She attended my program in New Delhi early this year and also had attended some shorter programs in UK. Here is the link. I understand that a few spots are still available to spread your yoga mats.
I will also be teaching an expended weekend program at my friend Suddha Weixlers Chicago Yoga Center. One day I will be teaching KaTha Upanishad, one of the 10 major upanishads, and during the following two days it will be the three chapters of Hatayoga Pradipika. Here are the links
I have a soft spot for Juan Mascaro's translations
The Upanishads (Penguin Classics) Paperback – November 30, 1965
by Anonymous (Author), Juan Mascaro (Translator)
but I also have Eknath Easwaran's on kindle, highly readable.
The Upanishads: A Classic of Indian Spirituality Paperback – August 28, 2007
by Eknath Easwaran (Author)
Sri Aurobindo's Upanishad selections are also on kindle and include the sanskrit
The Upanishads, 1st US Edition Paperback – December 31, 1996
by Sri Aurobindo
Richard Freeman recommends this one on his Yoga Workshop reading list, I always wanted to get hold of a copy.
The Principal Upanisads
translation/commentary by S. Radhakrishnan, Harper Collins
I have these for Sankaracarya's commentary...
Eight Upanishads, with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol. I
Eight Upanishads, with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol II
These pdf's are from my Yoga Reading List Page which includes 'Reading list's' from Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois and Ramaswami.
Some Upanishads Ramaswami studied with Krishnamacharya
Sad-Vidyá (?)Chándogya Upanishad pdf
Mándukya Upanishad pdf
Taittiriya Upanishad pdf
Prasna Upanishad pdf
Mundaka Upanishad pdf
Isvásya Upanishad pdf
Brhadáraóyaka Upanishad pdf
Svetavatara Upanishad pdf
Kausitaki Bráhmana Upanishad pdf
|Ramaswami's 200hr TT at LMU LA in 2010 (I'm over on the right)|