I was lucky to have studied in a college that allowed us to also study one "general elective" (a subject offered by other academic departments), every semester. So, the fact that I was a student of the computer science department did not prevent me from taking up other subjects offered by departments like social sciences, botany, English, and Sanskrit. One such course which I did was 'Upanishads'. And I must say it was one of the most interesting courses I've ever done.
In most classes, I would not even jot down any notes, because after all, a subject like Upanishads is all about uptake and application. At the end of the six months, only those lessons that had an impact on me would remain in my memory and influence my behaviour. Other lessons would be of no use, even if they are recorded with pen and paper.
Even today, if I close my eyes and recollect, I can almost hear our soft-spoken professor explaining some of life's greatest truths... and if I (and perhaps the other students too) can remember them even today, four years later, it is probably because of the simple way in which he used to explain the concepts, choosing the best metaphors and analogies from the ancient texts.
I'd like to share some of the most profound of these lessons with you...
1) Understanding the Upanishads or Vedanta, it is believed, is all about understanding and realising our oneness with the Brahman, or Supreme Spirit. Yet, in all these ancient texts, none of the greatest saints and teachers have been able to describe this Supreme Spirit. Is he a blue coloured God or is he one with matted locks, does he wear a pitambara or is he robed in deer skin? Oh, and should we refer to the Brahman as 'He' or 'She' - perhaps 'It' or 'That' would be more appropriate? No such descriptions. And no beginning or end either. At the very least have they been able to describe the experience of realising or beholding the Supreme Spirit. Again no! The most that they have been able to do is negate what the Supreme Spirit is not. Therefore, the Upanishads are full of negations saying the Brahman is not like this or that. "Na ithi, na ithi."
2) Advaita explains a concept known as "Rajju Sarpa Braanthihi" - A person who sees a rope in the darkness quickly mistakes it to be a snake. That's an illusion created by darkness. Similarly, lack of knowledge makes us believe the World, this life, our emotions, everything to be real, while all these are but the play of "Maya". When enlightenment dawns, we realise, like the man who realises when the light is switched on that it is indeed a rope and not a snake, that this life is but Maya. The only true thing is the Brahman, and we are but fragments of it. "Tat twam asi" - "You are that."
3) One of the most beautiful analogies given by our teacher was this: light a lamp, cover it with a pot which has many holes in it, and place this setup in a dark room. You will then see spots of light all over the room. And depending on the distance of the hole from the light, the spots created by it, will be light or dark, small or big. That's how we living creatures are as well. We may be short or tall, fair or dark, fat or skinny, but ultimately the truth remains that we are all nothing but manifestations of the same Universal Spirit.