Robert Ernest Hume

Robert Ernest

Indian Author, Translator, Professor of the History of Religions in the Union Theological Seminary in New York

Author Quotes

The Upanishads are religious and philosophical treatises, forming part of the early Indian Vedas.

The world-ground being ?tman, an objective Soul, which was known by the analogy of the soul, but which externally included the soul, certain closer relations were drawn between the not-self and the self, of both of which that ?tman was the ground.

This dualizing of the world-ground, this postulating of two Brahmas when the fundamental and repeated axiom of the whole Upanishadic speculation was that ?there is only one Brahma, without a second,? induced by way of correction the further development of the previous conception of phenomenality.1 Reality is One. Diversity and manifoldness are only an appearance? That is the real Brahma, the undifferenced unity. The lower Brahma of sense-manifoldness, in which everything appears as a self-subsistent entity, is merely an appearance due to a person?s ignorance that all is essentially one; that is, it is an illusion.

What, now, is the nature of that single all-encompassing pantheistic Being that has been discovered? It must possess as many qualities as there are in the whole of the real world which it constitutes. This attribution of all possible qualities to the Being of the. . . He who consists of mind, whose body is life, whose form is light, whose conception is truth, whose soul (?tman) is space, containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odors, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, the unspeaking, the unconcerned . . . smaller than a grain of rice, or a barley-corn, or a mustard-seed, or a grain of millet, or the kernel of a grain of millet . . . [yet] greater than the earth, greater than the atmosphere, greater than the sky, greater than these worlds.? It must also be capable of all contraries.

When one goes to sleep, he takes along the material (m?tr?) of this all-containing world, himself tears it apart, himself builds it up, and dreams by his own brightness, by his own light. Then this person becomes self-illuminated.

The consistent pantheistic conception, however, of the relation of knowledge and moral evil is that knowledge exempts from both good and evil, and elevates the knower altogether from the region of moral distinctions to the higher one where they are not operative.

The final goal of metaphysical speculation and the practical attainment of supreme and imperishable value was the Soul, the larger Soul which was the ground of the individual soul and of all existence.

The former glimpses of that nearest of known facts, the self, showed the thinkers of the Upanishads that the path they had been following, the path of realism, had logically led them to an unsatisfying conclusion. The unity for which they had been searching as if it were something outside of and apart from the self, could never be reached. For there still remains the stubborn dualism of self and not-self, however deeply the two might be set into a pantheistic unity which should embrace them both in an external grasp. Epistemological idealism must henceforth be the path traveled in order to reach the goal of an absolute unity. This was a wonderful discovery, intuitions of which had flashed out here and there, but which was forced upon them for adoption by the limit which they had reached along the line of epistemological realism. The final unity could not and would not, then, be found outside of self, but in it. In truth, the self is the unity that they had been looking for all along, ?for therein all these [things] become one? and only in it, i. e. in one?s own consciousness, do things exist. ?As far, verily, as this world-space extends, so far extends the space within the heart. Within it, indeed, are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and wind, both sun and moon, lightning and stars, both what one possesses here and what one does not possess; everything here is contained within it?

The general lack of data in Sanskrit literature for chronological orientation, makes it impossible to fix any definite dates for the Upanishads. The ?atapatha Br?hma?a, of which the B?ihad-?ra?yaka Upanishad forms the conclusion, is believed to contain material that comes down to 300 bc The Upanishads themselves contain several references to writings which undoubtedly are much later than the beginnings of the Upanishads. The best that can be done is to base conjectures upon the general aspect of the contents compared with what may be supposed to precede and to succeed. The usual date that is thus assigned to the Upanishads is about 600 or 500 B.C., just prior to the Buddhist revival.

The old cosmologies, according to which the world-ground was to be discovered in some particular phenomenal object or substance, are still clung to in so far as Brahma, the newly postulated world-ground, is to be found in one and another individual object, such as the sun, the moon, lightning, space, fire, water, and so forth; they are transcended, however, in so far as those objects are not regarded as themselves of the stuff out of which the world was fashioned, but are looked upon only as a habitation of the world-ground, which is also a person, locally lodged. Such a conception of the first disputant is corrected by the second?s pointing out that the world-ground cannot be the substrate of only certain particular phenomena; that the several principles must be referred back to a single one, ?who is the maker of these persons, of whom this [universe] is the work? and (more important still) that if one would come close to the apprehension of this world-ground, it is chiefly to be known as the upholder of his own psychical existence through the period of sleep; that it is a Soul (?tman) and that this Soul is the source of all existing things, vital energies, worlds, gods, all beings, which are actual, to be sure, but actual only because It is their Real.

The pleasant dreams of sleep, rather than the hampered waking consciousness, were, according to some of the passages which have been quoted, tentatively accepted as characteristic of the unlimited Self; but, because of the fact of unpleasant dreams, they were rejected in favor of the bliss of dreamless sleep, where even the duality of subject and object that is foreign to the essential nature of the unitary Self is melted away.

The soul of the released - Now the man who does not desire.?He who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose desire is the Soul?his breaths do not depart. Being very Brahma, he goes to Brahma.

Longer descriptions of ?tman as the basis of the unity implied in the usual correlations of the not-self and the self, are the two following: ?tman is the person in the earth and the person in the body; in the waters and in the semen; in fire and in speech; in wind and in breath; in the sun and in the eye; in the quarters and in the ear and in the echo; in the moon and in the mind; in lightning and in heat; in thunder and in sound; in space and in the space of the heart; in law and in virtuousness; in truth and in truthfulness; in humanity and in a human; in the Self and in the self.

The thought of any people and of any generation is exceedingly complex, consciously or unconsciously containing certain elements from the past, which are being gradually discarded, and also certain presentiments of truth which are only later fully recognized. Yet in it all there is a dominant tendency which may readily be discerned. So in the Upanishadic period there were mythical cosmologies inherited and accepted, whose influence continued long after they had logically been superseded by more philosophical theories. In the main, however, there was an appreciation of idealism. This, having seen in the psychic self the essence of the whole world, and having identified it with Brahma, reacted against the realistic philosophy which had produced the concept of Brahma; and then it carried the ?tman, or the purely psychical, element over into the extreme of philosophical idealism.

Realistic pantheism has been changed into epistemological idealism. All existence is for, and in, the self.

The unknown character of this newly discovered Being and the idea that only by its will do even the gods perform their functions, is indicated in a legend contained in the Kena Upanishad. Brahma appeared to the gods, but they did not understand who it was. They deputed Agni, the god of fire, to ascertain its identity. He, vaunting of his power to burn, was challenged to burn a straw, but was baffled. Upon his unsuccessful return to the gods, V?yu, the god of wind, was sent on the same mission. He, boasting of his power to blow anything away, was likewise challenged to blow a straw away and was likewise baffled. To Indra, the next delegate, a beautiful woman, allegorized by the commentator as Wisdom, explained that the incognito was Brahma, through whose power the gods were exalted and enjoyed greatness.

Searchings for the origin and explanation of the world of phenomena, first in a phenomenal entity like water and space, and then in a super-phenomenal entity like non-being, being, or the Imperishable, had even in the Rig- and Atharva-Vedas reached the conception of a necessarily unitary basis of the world and even the beginnings of monism.

The Upanishads are no homogeneous products, cogently presenting a philosophic theory, but that they are compilations from different sources recording the ?guesses at truth? of the early Indians. A single, well articulated system cannot be deduced from them; but underlying all their expatiations, contradictions, and unordered matter there is a general basis of a developing pantheism which will now be placed in exposition.

So the unity which has been searched for from the beginning of Indian speculation was reached. ?As all the spokes are held together in the hub and felly of a wheel, just so in this Soul all things, all gods, all worlds, all breathing things, all selves are held together? Pantheism now is the ruling conception of the world, for the world is identical with ?tman. ??tman alone is the whole world.? ?This Brahmanhood, this Kshatrahood, these worlds, these gods, these beings, everything here is what this Soul is?. ?Who is this one?? and the reply is: ?He is Brahma; he is Indra; he is Praj?pati; [he is] all the gods here; and these five gross elements, namely earth, wind, space, water, light; these things and those which are mingled of the fine, as it were; origins of one sort or another: those born from an egg, and those born from a womb, and those born from sweat, and those born from a sprout; horses, cows, persons, elephants; whatever breathing thing there is here?whether moving or flying, and what is stationary.?

Strictly it is the state of dreamless sleep which is taken as typifying the attainment of the real.

Such is the outcome of a long circuitous journey to reach that ultimate unity of reality which was dimly foreseen long before in the Rig-Veda and which had been the goal of all the succeeding speculations. What is it?we pause and ask?that has now been reached? On the one hand an illusory world and on the other hand an unknowable reality. Honestly and earnestly had the thinkers of the Upanishads sought to find the true nature of this world of experience and of a beyond which constantly lured them on, but it had proved to be an ignis fatuus. Yet they did not give up in the despair of agnosticism or in the disappointment of failure. The glimpses which they had had of that final unity had frequently suggested that the self must be accounted for in the unity of being. They had found an underlying basis for the subjective and objective in the great ?tman, the world-soul, like unto the self-known soul and inclusive of that, but in itself external to it. And they had found that the great ?tman was identical with the great Brahma, the power or efficacy that actuates the world. But in the explanation of the phenomenal and the noumental that Brahma had fallen apart and vanished, one part into the illusory and the other into the unknowable.

Such was the beginning of that which became a prominent doctrine of the later Ved?nta, the doctrine of M?y? or the inevitable illusoriness of all human cognition. In its early development it did not base itself in any way upon what was a chief source of the early Greek scepticism, namely illusions of sense.

The ?tman thus being void of all ethical distinctions, the ?tman-knower who by his knowledge becomes ?tman likewise transcends them in his union with Him. ?As a man when in the embrace of a beloved wife knows nothing within or without, so this person when in the embrace of the intelligent Soul knows nothing within or without. Verily, that is his [true] form.

The belief in a person?s renewed existence in another body after death, is present in the Upanishads, but not as a burden of despair. It is only the belief in the retributive reward of character operating with a continued existence in the locality of this world instead of in the locality of heaven or hell.

In the figurative manner of speculation, from which Indian philosophy as well as all philosophy proceeded, ?tman, like Brahma, is first conceived under the form of particular objects of nature. The truth there contained is appreciated and, better than in the Brahma-dialogues, commended by being immediately universalized. All the great nature-gods, mentioned as henotheistically venerated for the philosophical world-ground, are indeed the ?tman, but only parts of him. They may, by an accommodation to the learner?s standpoint of sense-thought, be regarded as his bodily parts. But by transcending this lower plane of attention directed to objectively observed facts, A?vapati directed them, in their search for ultimate reality, to an inclusive cosmic Self, which must be conceived of after the analogy of a human self and with which the human self must be identified.

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Robert Ernest
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Indian Author, Translator, Professor of the History of Religions in the Union Theological Seminary in New York