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Home >> Seeker’s Solace  >> Know thyself: The meaning of Upanishad
 

Know thyself: The meaning of Upanishad

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So, does Vedanta, the Upanishads to be precise, help find a way to that supreme? If there is a way, can I formulate it as a method by which one can find one’s ‘true-self’?

Yes and no!

Yes, because the way that the Upanishad discusses it and says that actually there is no way. This means when one understands clearly that the only way is to make the mind still or to allow the mind to settle down or to become still and not get caught up in the confusion of this or that or this against that. Also, when the mind is calm–beyond the tempest of its passions and desires–in that utter stillness the ‘truth’ comes into being. One understands one’s true reality. It is as if all the impurities, all the agitations, all the modifications of the mind have been wiped out and the essence remains in its absolute purity. This essence is the ‘self’; the ‘true-self’. Well, anything other than that is considered by the Upanishad to be a ‘non-self’, which means ‘that which is not true’!

The great Rishi Patanjali, discussing this in his ‘Yoga Sutras’, defines yoga as ‘yogas chitta vritti nirodhah’ which means ‘yoga is the stilling of the mind’. Yoga is the stopping of all the modifications of the mind. Yoga is freeing the mind from all its distractions, and when it becomes absolutely quiet, that state is called ‘Kaivalya’.

I would now like you to take a look at what the word ‘Upanishad’ means.

Upa – Ni – Shad.

It is as if all the impurities, all the agitations, all the modifications of the mind have been wiped out and the essence remains in its absolute purity.


Upanishad, the word, consists of three syllables. The first one, ‘Upa‘ means close, to remain close. Not a closed mind, but to be close to somebody. Now, it has two meanings: one is to move closer and closer to the ultimate ‘truth’, which is one’s own ‘self’ or the ‘true self’; and two, to sit closer to the teacher, which doesn’t necessarily mean physically close. It means to purify our minds to such an extent that it is in complete rapport with the mind of the teacher. This is what ‘being close to the mind of the teacher’ means.

Upa. Upavasa, to move closer. Upavasa need not necessarily mean fasting. Upavasa means to move closer.

We will discuss the middle syllable later and now go to the last syllable ‘Shad’‘Shad’ means to sit! You know, when you are doing some work–reading, writing, concentrating–you usually sit. When you stand up, we know that you are going to move away, that the attention has been diverted. So, sitting is so important.

In fact, in ancient India, people sat down to eat. They did not stand and eat, there were no fast food joints anywhere, and therefore, the digestive system worked very well. So, it is good to sit and eat because then the mind is calm, the body is calm and this is when digestion takes place properly.

So, ‘shad’ means to sit. Now, here it means two things–one, to sit near the teacher and listen to what the teacher is saying without any prejudice or pre-conceived idea and, two, it means that the mind should sit down. 

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