Upayoga – analysis; Upanishad; Utpalinii – lotus
As we enter the final stretch of the A-Z challenge, it is timely to look at how to approach philosophy, a vital part of the Vedantic philosophical literature, and a significant symbol used by many Eastern philosophies.
UPA – is the prefix to the first two words; unsurprisingly it means ‘up’. More widely, it is ‘higher’, ‘above’ and other related words.
YOGA – this has become one of the ‘usurped’ words, like karma. Ashtanga yoga – the exercise discipline – is familiar to almost everyone, but it relates specifically to the physical. Philosophy is taught with it, to varying degrees, but the majority of practitioners are merely interested in the immediacy of the physical.
More correctly, ‘yoga’ means ‘path’ or ‘way’. In terms of the Bhagavad Gita, where each chapter is called as a ‘yoga’, it refers to teaching which points to the ideal of things. It, therefore, pertains to the pursuit of knowledge. In the case of ashtanga, it is, then, ‘pursuit of knowledge of the eight parts (of the body)’.
Upayoga is to apply one’s higher thinking faculty to the pursuit of understanding – in short, to analyse, to use logic.
It was one of the great attractions of Advaita Vedanta for yours truly that there was no spoon-feeding or doctrinal page-thumping. On the contrary, the challenge was to keep up with one’s own thinking and intellectual prowess. It was demanded. One of Gurudev’s favourite jibes at the end of exploring a text or part thereof was, “THINK!” Often, during the course at Sandeepany, we would find ourselves being stretched further, not quite believing that we had any ‘little greys’ left to activate! More than once, this phrase circulated within this student; “just when I thought I had my best thought thunk, along came more thinking and that thought was sunk.” No matter how often a thing is repeated, regardless if you have heard the tale before; if you are genuinely listening, are fully open, you will always find something new, something more profound, something you missed.
NISHAD – to draw near. If left open as ‘nishada’ it refers to a musical note. It can also be a mountaineer. Not unwarranted in reference to spiritual researches, for it can sometimes feel like one is climbing a mental Everest! The Upanishads are part of the triumvirate of source texts for Advaita Vedanta. Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras and Upanishads. Their name carries clues as to their purpose; ‘draw close to the Higher’. They are found in the final sections of each of the four Vedas and might be considered (loosely) as the ‘New Testament’ of Hindu practice. The term ‘Vedanta’ literally means ‘knowledge ending’. In gaining this Knowledge, all other knowledge becomes homogenous. When one reads the Upanishads, all other scriptures open up as if new to one. However, not everyone can approach these writings and gain from them as intended. Thus, the Bhagavad Gita offers the same wisdom in a form more accessible to the reader with more pressing need. (For the interested, this book set is highly recommended – Indian residents, check here. There are also CDs and DVDs of Gurudev’s discourses on the Gita.)
UTPALINII – there are very many words for the lotus in Sanskrit. It is so that one can picture the plant in its various parts and presentations. In this case, it refers to the whole plant, from root to bloom and can be used in reference to a grouping of lotus. Why is the lotus so prominent a symbol?
It represents the epitome of overcoming odds. Despite having to live in swampy, dark, dingy, smelly mire. Its broad leaf repels all that falls upon it – an example of how to let troubles drop from our shoulders; its tall stem brings the bloom far above the gloom – an example of how reaching to the Higher can give us a clearer point of view; and its beautiful blossom is the promise and result of efforts made to rise above – an example of how seeking the Higher Self can result in a blossoming of our inner being, which does not worry itself from where it came, only that it can bask in The Light. What is more, the lotus does all this quietly, uncomplaining, with grace and charm.
Whatever our lot, remember the lotus. Become the lotus.