Open main menu

Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 1.djvu/433

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

death, i.e. such evil as sin, passion, &c, through worship of the undeveloped, while he obtains through worship of the developed, i.e. of Hiranyagarbha, immortality, absorption in Prakrriti."

All these forced explanations to which the commentators have recourse, arise from the shifting views held by various authorities with regard to the value of works. Our Upanishad seems to me to propound the doctrine that works, though in themselves useless, or even mischievous, if performed with a view to any present or future rewards, are necessary as a preparatory discipline. This is or was for a long time the orthodox view. Each man was required to pass through the âsramas, or stages of student and householder, before he was admitted to the freedom of a Sannyâsin. As on a ladder, no step was to be skipped. Those who attempted to do so, were considered to have broken the old law, and in some respects they may indeed be looked upon as the true precursors of the Buddhists.

Nevertheless the opposite doctrine, that a man whose mind had become enlightened, might at once drop the fetters of the law, without performing all the tedious duties of student and householder, had strong supporters too among orthodox philosophers. Cases of such rapid conversion occur in the ancient traditions, and Bâdarâyana himself was obliged to admit the possibility of freedom and salvation without works, though maintaining the superiority of the usual course, which led on gradually from works to enlightenment and salvation[1]. It was from an unwillingness to assent to the decided teaching of the Îsâ-upanishad that Sankara attempted to explain vidyâ, knowledge, in a limited sense, as knowledge of the gods, and not yet knowledge of Brahman. He would not admit that knowledge without works could lead to darkness, and even to greater darkness than works without knowledge. Our Upanishad seems to have dreaded libertinism, knowledge without works, more even than ritualism, works without knowledge, and its true object was to show that orthodoxy and sacrifice, though useless in themselves, must always form the preparation for higher enlightenment.

How misleading Sankara's explanation may prove, we can see from the translation of this Upanishad by Rammohun Roy. He followed Sankara implicitly, and this is the sense which he drew from the text:—

"9. Those observers of religious rites that perform only the worship of the sacred fire, and oblations to sages, to ancestors,

  1. Vedânta-sutras III, 4, 36-39.