Upanishads' philosophy is as old as anything can be, and it so meaningful that its significance cannot be estimated unless one sincerely and seriously approaches it. So how this thought can be best described?
Upanishads give us a true way of understanding this world and the meaning of human existence in it; it gives us a true sense of human life and the values one should cherish if one wants to stay calm and happy. Upanishad philosophy is a way towards true happiness and peace of mind; it regulates human life in a way that enables one to stay in complete control of one’s self and ones powers.
Vedic philosophy mainly is the philosophy of Atman, the true self or supreme ego. The teachings of Vedas lead a person towards a true understanding of this ultimate reality thus take a person out of the turmoils of meaninglessness of life. It is at times difficult to understand Vedic philosophy, but once one understands it one at once finds that one has achieved something precious.
In this preliminary lesson we will start with an important concept ' Maya' or false consciousness. People in this world are mainly living in a false consciousness about themselves and about the world. So, the first and the most important thing to do is to leave this false consciousness.
What is false consciousness? In Upanishads, the great teachers have described three levels of false consciousness; these are:
Nama, Roopa and Karma.
Brhad-aranyaka Upanishads writes:
" Verily ,this (world) is a triad of Name, Form and Work(nama, rupam, karma). Of these regards names, speech is the source, for from it all names arise. ... it is their Brahman, for it sustains all names."
" of the form eye is the source, for from it all shapes arise. ...it is their Brahman"
"of works, body is the source for from it all works arise.... it is their Brahman."
The Upanishads declares that the real or the existent, the world of matter in which we live, is but a combination of these three; (Nama(Name) , Rupa(Form) and Karma(work).
What is self then? The Upanishads goes on to say that;" these three Rupa, Nama and Karma are one... the self, though one is this triad."
So self is a unity but is also a triad of the three realities, satyam, Rupa , Nama and Karma.
However, self is hidden behind these three; it is veiled by Rupa, Nama and Karma. The self, the Atman the Brahman is veiled behind the elements of triad.
This gives us the idea that if self is goal of life, then one has to break through this veil, the veil of Rupa , Nama and Karma.
It is neither easy to do nor to understand , however, Upanishads emphasizing the knowledge and achievement of self , ask man to understand that whatever man loves, understands and desires, is for nothing but for the Self.
Sat, reality or truth is the veil; behind this veil is the Self, Atman.
So Upanishads ask us to break this Veil, commonly known as Veil of Maya. How this can be done? Upanishads offer us a detailed and all embracing way to achieve this end.
In the nutshell, to break the Veil of Nama one has to abandon belief in personal attributes or qualities like being a this or that type of man or being a this or that type of character. According to some ascetics the only attributes that a person can retain are his or her sexual identity and faith. All other attributions are false including nationality, profession etc.
So, the first step towards breaking the Veil of Maya or False Consciousness is to renounce false attributes for the sake of self.
The second step is to renounce worldly pleasures for the sake of self. Rupa or form, the most pleasing to the eyes, is not desirable in-itself. Rupa or form is desirable for the sake of self. Thus one should learn to renounce sensuous pleasure of viewing forms.
The third step is the renunciation of Karma. Karma is not in itself desirable. Karma or action is desirable for the Self. So one should learn how to renounce action for the sake of self.
This threefold doctrine is much emphasized throughout the Upanishads.
Maya jaal works through the triad of Rupa, Nama and Karma. This triad is also called the Sat, the reality. However, this reality is nothing but it appears as something under the influence of a power known as Maya Shakti. Thus, what we know through our senses, and what we understand and perform, our actions, all are nothing in a more correct sense of truthfulness.
Rupa is the form perceived by our eyes. Our eye perceives a thing as a particular thing. Our eye communicates to us the particular form of a thing. If we see a car, our eye communicates us the particular form, the particular car. But this particular form, against the background of absolute being, as a chunk of absolute being is nothing but only a chunk of absolute being. Why we perceive a particular chunk of being as a particular car is actually the play of Maya Shakti.
A particular home is another chunk of being, but Maya allows us to identify it as a particular house, and hides from us the fact this is only a chunk of being that we are looking at. So, to see the reality as formless, as one is liberating oneself from Maya Shakti. Yet this freedom is not completed unless one learns how Maya acts? How it creates forms? To know how Maya Shakti acts is a bit difficult.
In the case of Nama, we recognize something with a concept, with a universal form. Thus a car that I perceive, I recognize as a car, whereas, the car is a universal form. This again is a work of Maya, it is Maya that allows us to understand, and recognize a particular thing as a universal. On the other hand, a particular is a particular and a universal is a universal and they don't correspond.
In the domain of Karma, we believe in the law of cause and effect and think that action has a reaction or effect. This again is the work of Maya Shakti that allows us to have faith in cause and effect.
So , when we study and pass the exam we think that our action has resulted in an effect; on the other hand there is no such relationship between action and its effect.
So, to liberate oneself from Maya is to liberate one from these false ways of being conscious.