Philip Cartwright's Reviews > Upanisads

Upanisads by Patrick Olivelle
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it was amazing
bookshelves: philosophy, religion

A fascinating, sometimes haunting, sometimes baffling read. Of course, these sacred scriptures don't give a full picture of Hinduism by themselves - for that I'd need greater familiarity with the numerous ceremonies, chants, rituals and stories that go with them. Nevertheless, the Upanishads provide a mesmerising window onto what is (for me) a very foreign world.

I hesitate to attempt much analysis of such a venerable text - especially after just a first read-through. But I will offer this: on one level the Upanishads provide a means of connecting mankind to the world (and by "the world" I mean not just the earth and its objects, but celestial objects, gods and spirits). It spells out a web of intricate symbolism whereby everything stands for something else and everything is connected to everything else. Everything grasps and is grasped. But on another level, the symbolism is a means of transcending the world. Here, of course, I'm thinking of Brahman: the great unknowable that stands at the heart of all existence and can only be defined by a series of negations: "Not__ Not__ Not__".

As the Upanishads progress this notion of Brahman increasingly takes centre-stage. Consequently I found the mystical message became increasingly familiar: the perceived world is an illusion, wealth is a trap, etc, etc. I'm not criticising this, but I did find the earlier books (the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads) intriguing precisely because they are more ambiguous or elusive on the issue.

The Oxford World's Classics edition has a helpful introduction and detailed end-notes.

Finally, one of the many verses that caught my eye:

I do not think
that I know it well;
But I know not
that I do not know.
Who of us knows that,
he does know that;
But he knows not,
that he does not know.

It's envisioned by one who envisions it not;
but one who envisions it knows it not.
And those who perceive it perceive it not;
but it's perceived by those who perceive it not.

Kena Upanishad, Chapter 2
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Reading Progress

January 12, 2013 – Started Reading
January 12, 2013 – Shelved
January 12, 2013 –
page 28
January 13, 2013 –
page 64
January 15, 2013 –
page 100
January 19, 2013 –
page 118
January 22, 2013 –
page 143
January 28, 2013 –
page 170
February 1, 2013 –
page 192
February 3, 2013 –
page 206
February 9, 2013 –
page 238
February 17, 2013 – Shelved as: philosophy
February 17, 2013 – Shelved as: religion
February 17, 2013 – Finished Reading

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