Sunday, March 12, 2006

Known, yet unknown

It was with much apprehension that I first entered my Upanishads class in college (this was around four years ago.) It was a new elective that was being offered and I had enrolled thanks to my unquenchable desire to know more about our cultural and Vedic heritage.

I entered with butterflies in my stomach, equipped with some basic knowledge of Sanskrit, which I was sure would not suffice for understanding the Upanishads. There were thirty equally baffled faces sitting in the class. We had been informed that the nature of the Brahman (the supreme soul) would be the main topic of discussion. Waiting for the teacher to arrive, I glanced through the first few pages of our textbook. The content baffled me.

I came through statements like… “The Brahman is known, yet unknown; and is a matter of experience which cannot be explained by words or pictures or any of the tools of communication, that what the teacher imparts to the student is only a near-perfect description of the experience and guidance on the means to obtain the knowledge.” For a layman like me, it was Greek and Latin.

Had I been a teacher and had I entered that class to teach Upanishads, not even the promise of half a kingdom would have made me stay, let alone proceed with the discourse, for all of us students were looking so dazed and ignorant. But it was amazing how, for our teacher, it took only ten minutes and one example to convince us of the practical perspective of the concept of Brahman. The example was really an eye-opener and I am compelled by an urge to share it with more people.

Just imagine a lamp, which is covered by an earthen pot. Suppose we made a lot of holes in the pot and kept the setup in a dark room, wouldn’t the room be splattered by spots of light? Depending on the distance of the hole from the lamp, the spots may be diffused or sharp … of varying shapes and sizes. But can we dispute the fact that all the light is indeed from that one lamp.

That, the teacher explained to us is the concept of Brahman, which is the Supreme spirit of which we human beings, of varying complexions, heights, weights, appearances and nature, are simply manifestations. When we realize this harmony between the individual and the universal, we come to terms with life.

After that there was no going back. The cosmopolitan group understood that there was no language barrier in learning such a universal concept. Example after example made us understand the essence of the Upanishads, but none matched the concept as perfectly as the above.

It leads us to wonder, doesn’t it… if all of us realized this oneness and harmony, there would be no question of communal riots or religious disputes. All of us are but drops in one big ocean of humanity with a touch of the divine in every one of us. Let’s remember to search for that divine spark in ourselves, and behold it in others too.

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