The Taittiriya Upanishad

Joy and fear have their play in every human life, and our natural tendency is to seek and increase that which makes us happy, and free ourselves from that which causes fear. The Taittiriya Upanishad is like a manual of the means to banish fear and secure the joy of lasting fulfilment. Its three sections focus on, first, good conduct, without which no happiness is possible; a knowledge of the world, and of the deeper reality that underlies it; and, finally, a sequence of meditations that lead to the realisation of our oneness with that reality.

It is through knowledge that we are freed from fear, the knowledge of absolute truth, and it is also knowledge uncovered in the depths of our being that reveals to us the joy intrinsic to our own nature.

Alongside the teachings on good conduct—which includes truthfulness, magnanimity, self-control, and ongoing diligence in the matter of learning and teaching, comes the need for a ‘unitive outlook’, a conviction and intuitive understanding that all is a phenomenal expression of one great reality, and this should be expressed in our unitive and all-embracing warmth of attitude to all. The following chant transcends conventional benevolence and points to the highest realisation. The language is metaphorical, since ultimate truth cannot be expressed in words:

I am the invigorator of the tree of the world.
My fame is high like the ridge of a mountain.
My source is the pure Brahman.
I am like that pure reality of the self that is in the sun.
I am the effulgent wealth. I am possessed of a fine intellect,
and am immortal and undecaying. (1:10:1)

Being free from qualities, the supreme reality is, strictly speaking, nameless and unnameable. Nonetheless, in the Upanishads, there is a name that is used to indicate this principle for purposes of teaching and meditation. That name is Brahman, denoting such meanings as the Absolute, perfection, freedom from all limitations, the All. The universality of Brahman is not essentially different from the universality of our innermost and real Self, and another word, Atman, is used for the reality in relation to the individual. The key point is that Atman, the true Self, is not other than Brahman, the Absolute.

To speak in the language of religion and theology, Brahman may be equated with the purest ideas associated with the supreme deity or God. Brahman or Atman is the true being underlying both the self and the world. In many ways the Taittiriya Upanishad depicts Brahman as the supreme creative power and cause of all, that from which the universe emanates, by which it is sustained, and into which it will finally be withdrawn. It is the ‘self-creator’ who projected the universe of ‘names and forms’ out of itself, and is ever the real substratum underlying the ultimately unreal world-appearance.

But the teachings that speak of Brahman as world creator do not throw light on the nature of Brahman itself. Such teachings indicate the omnipotence of the supreme being in relation to the phenomenal universe, but more guidance, so to say, is needed if we are to make progress towards direct experience of reality.

It is the Taittiriya Upanishad where we find the phrase satyam-jnanam-anantam-brahman, which can be translated as ‘the absolute is pure being or truth (satyam), intuitive knowledge (jnanam) and infinity (anantam). These words are similar to the more widely used expression: ‘sat-chit-ananda’, which means ‘existence-consciousness-bliss’.

We now have a statement which serves as a definition of Brahman in so far as the human mind can aspire to reflect on that which transcends the limits of the mind.

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