The Kena Upanishad

One of the signs of mature thought is the urge to discover the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. If this urge arises in us and persists, it is usually linked to our recognition that the goals which most people pursue—or would pursue if they had the opportunity—are insufficient to cure the restlessness of the human heart.

When this philosophical mood invades us, our response might not always be positive. The undermining of our confidence in life’s conventional goals, such as wealth, glory, power and expertise, may lead to scepticism. To feel that nothing matters destroys our motivation for taking anything seriously. We may even seek to disillusion others with our dim assessment of life.

On the other hand, if we are not swayed by this negativity, and if we can open our mind to the possibility of a deeper understanding, we will find that countless individuals down the ages have detected in life a higher purpose. The scriptures of the world form a testimony to their insight. But even without this connection with religion, the truth about life’s purpose is so vital that it can shine through any mind, in any domain of life or learning. The one factor common to all expressions of truth is the assumption that, as human beings, we can guide our mind in such a way that our consciousness expands and deepens. Life becomes a creative adventure when we recognise that certain ideas do have the power, depth and purity to guide us to a higher mode of life.

One of the most effective forms of Truth-communication is the collection of teachings known as the Upanishads—originally passed on by word of mouth, and later organised into short books or writings. To call the Upanishads ‘writings’ is misleading. It suggests that their subject-matter can be adequately passed on by means of words. But what the Upanishads ultimately shed light on cannot be expressed in words. Their subject matter is the supreme reality that underlies and makes possible the transient appearances. The insufficiency of words to describe this reality is not because it is vague and mysterious, but because it is sublime and transcendent, and one only without a second. There is thus no way the Real can divide and analyse itself for purposes of discussion.

But the Upanishads have not been revealed to us in order to expose our limitations or to tell us about a goal that is beyond our reach. Their words serve a unique purpose. That purpose is to impart the awakening knowledge of absolute Reality—That which ever was, is and shall be. We are introduced to the search for the supreme Truth in our own being—as the reality of what we are. For infinite Reality is the very nature of our being.

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This article is from the Spring 2023 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.